Reporters looking to write about the next chapter in antimicrobial resistance should get up to speed on fungal infections.
“The future is going to be a fungal problem,” said Tom Chiller, M.D., M.P.H.T.M., chief of CDC’s mycotic diseases branch, during the “Antimicrobial resistance during and after COVID-19” panel at Health Journalism 2022 in Austin.
Fungi are spore-producing organisms like yeast, molds and mushrooms. About 100 of them are known to cause disease in humans. Deadly antimicrobial resistant fungal infection cases, already rising in nursing homes and hospitals before the pandemic, accelerated during the past two years, according to the CDC.
Hospital overuse of antibiotics, especially during the first year of the pandemic when there were few options for treating patients, plus the use of steroids to treat lung inflammation caused by COVID-19, both contributed to increases in resistant fungal infections with high mortality rates.
“COVID … introduced a bit of an unfortunate perfect storm” that enabled more and broader transmission of fungal infections in hospitals, Chiller said.
In 2017, according to the most recent CDC data, 75,000 people were hospitalized in the U.S. for fungal infections, but that’s likely an underestimate. These infections often go undiagnosed and there is no national public health surveillance of common fungal infections, according to the CDC. Globally, about 13.5 million severe fungal infections — and 1.6 million deaths — are reported annually to public health officials, according to the non-profit Global Action for Fungal Infections.