April 9 (UPI) -- Nearly 600 cases of a deadly multi-drug resistant fungus have been confirmed throughout the country and health officials are warning the public to protect themselves from this infectious disease.
The national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said there have been 587 confirmed cases of Candida auris over the past few years in 12 reporting states with the majority found in the New York City area, New Jersey and Chicago.
Candida auris, a yeast infection with a 1/3 mortality rate if the infection reaches either the blood, heart or brain, was first discovered in Japan in 2009 and presents a "serious global health threat", the CDC said.
Cases of the disease -- which spreads through medical facilities -- primarily began to be reported in the United States after mid-2015. Also known as C. auris, it is resistant to at least one class of anti-fungal drugs, one-third of the strains are resistant to two classes of anti-fungal drugs and some strains are resistant to all three, according to the CDC.
As of March 18, the Department of Health for New York said it had recorded 309 cases of the disease where the patient fell ill while it found an additional 429 cases where people carried the disease on their body but weren't infected.
"Cases in New York are primarily concentrated among hospital patients and nursing home residents in New York City," the state's health department said.
Meanwhile, Chicago has confirmed 154 cases of the disease between May 24, 2016, and April 4, 2019, which is an increase of 10 cases from the CDC website that was last updated at the end of February.
New Jersey has reported 132 cases and 22 cases considered probable in the last four years, the North Jersey Record reported.
"It's taken us all by surprise," said David S. Perlin, chief scientific officer of the new Hackensack Meridian Health Center for Discovery and Innovation, adding that no one is sure why this disease is spreading now.
"We're seeing it in hospitals -- we have a problem obviously in New York and New Jersey, but we see it in Spain, the United Kingdom, South Africa and other places. How do you explain how this has happened all at once?"
Meanwhile, 1,056 patients have been diagnosed as "colonized" with the fungus by the CDC, which means they have the disease but don't exhibit symptoms.
Those at high risk of C. auris are those who recently had surgery, suffer from diabetes and have taken a broad spectrum of antibiotic and anti-fungal medications. Also, those who have visited nursing homes and are connected to breathing tubes, feeding tubes and other medical devices are at the highest risk of contracting the infection, the CDCP said.
"Infections have been found in patients of all ages, from preterm infants to the elderly," the CDC said.
The CDC said symptoms of C. auris are difficult to identify as it is often spread in medical facilities where people are already suffering from other illnesses.
Infection of the disease is usually diagnosed by blood cultures, but it is harder to identify as it can be confused with other types of yeasts and requires special laboratory tests.