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New Study Helping Researchers Learn How Deadly Superbug Fungus Is Transmitted

HACKENSACK, N.J. (CBSNewYork) -- Federal health officials are keeping a close eye on a new superbug reported in some New York and New Jersey hospitals and health facilities.

A new study is helping researchers understand how the fungus is transmitted and how to stop it from spreading.

Making sure every room in the hospital is safe and clean is a priority for Dr. Carol Barsky, the chief quality officer of Hackensack Meridian Health in New Jersey. She says there are many places germs can linger.

"Our approach here is to have those strong infectious control practices every day, in every patient, every person," she said.

The latest superbug to emerge is a fungus called Candida auris. Since 2016, more than 680 cases have been reported in hospitals and long-term health facilities in 12 states.

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Now, researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have found patients with very high levels of the Candida auris on their skin can shed the fungus and contaminate their environment.

"We found a correlation to the amount of Candida on the skin to the amount of Candida on the bedrail … We know it can survive on skin for very long periods of time," Dr. Tom Chiller, with the CDC, said.

The CDC says people who get serious Candida auris infections are usually sick and hospitalized with other conditions. More than one in three patients with Candida auris die.

"It is acquiring or developing, evolving resistance quite rapidly and readily. It is hard to kill," Chiller said.

Barsky says Hackensack is diligent about sanitizing rooms daily and in between patients, and has not had any Candida auris cases. Now, they are testing a new UV technology called "purple sun," which disinfects a room in 90 seconds.

"Wherever high-touch areas are, those are more likely to harbor the organisms we're talking about," Barsky said.

Barsky also reminds staff, patients and families that good hand hygiene is critical to keep germs from spreading.

While the fungus is resistant to some antibiotics, the CDC says new treatments are in clinical trials.

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