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Deadly Superbug Fungus Hits Tri-State Hospitals, CDC Says

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- The Centers for Disease Control says a deadly superbug fungus has hit hospitals in the United States, primarily in the Tri-State Area.

As CBS2's Meg Baker reports, it's an infection that can easily be misidentified and become deadly, and now health officials are on high alert.

"The organism can be spread patient to patient as well as environmental surfaces which make it unique in that regard," Dr. Neil Gaffin said.

Gaffin is an infectious disease specialist at the Valley Hospital in Ridgewood, New Jersey -- which has not had any cases of the dangerous superbug.

He explains it's a yeast known as Candida auris that is being spread around hospitals, mainly around New York and New Jersey.

"Labs have become more aware and not missing this," Gaffin said. "So I think that's probably in large part the reason for the uptick, but we can't exclude foreign travel."

First found in a man's ear in Japan in 2009, Candida auris is rare -- but there has been a recent increase in cases in the United States, with 44 in New York and 17 in New Jersey.

The NJ Health Department says it's "working on tracking cases throughout the state to ensure appropriate control measures are taken."

Symptoms for the infection include difficulty swallowing and a burning sensation. Doctors say the superbug fungus can be difficult to treat because it's shown signs of resistance against drugs typically used to treat fungal infections.

"What's also unique about this organism is that it can actually stay on skin surfaces for prolonged periods of time, even months after the initial infection is cured," Gaffin said.

In the process, doctors say the bug could infect other people, which is why it is so important to diagnose those who are infected and track them.

Health officials say all positive patients caught the fungus while their immune systems were already down from fighting other medical illnesses. Most people are healthy enough to fight the infection off.

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