LAS VEGAS (KLAS) —  A doctor who has pioneered research on a fungus that’s spreading at Nevada health care facilities says there’s some early progress in fighting the drug-resistant organism.

Dr. Mahmoud Ghannoum, an authority on Candida auris (C. auris), said a compound has been found to be effective against the fungus that has been identified as a “superbug” by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It’s one of a handful of drug-resistant microbes the CDC has listed as an “urgent” threat.

“We are very excited about this. We have a team now starting to do testing in collaboration with a company,” Ghannoum said Thursday. He recently received National Institutes of Health funding to study C. auris.

Dr. Mahmoud Ghannoum reports early progress in combatting C. auris, a fungus identified as an “urgent” concern by the CDC.

Last week, reported that C. auris cases have increased by nearly 46% at Nevada health care facilities since November. At the end of 2022, Nevada’s cases accounted for 16% of the cases nationwide.

Ghannoum helped explain what hospitals are up against as they try to combat the fungus.

Data provided by the Nevada Division of Public and Behavioral Health broke down two types of cases at health care facilities: clinical and “colonization” cases. And while colonization sounds a bit scary, it’s the clinical cases that are more serious, Ghannoum said.

“A clinical case means when somebody — a person — gets infected and they have a disease. For example, they have kidney issues, it’s spread all over the body. Whereas colonization is when the organism is present, for example, particularly in the skin. If it is on the skin, this means it does not cause disease but it could be a way for the fungus to spread from one person to another.”

Infections can happen when the fungus attaches to a catheter used to treat a patient.

And while clinical cases are more serious, it can be difficult to get rid of the fungus once it's in a health care setting, Ghannoum said. Colonization on the skin can spread the fungus.

He talked about very basic steps that are crucial in stopping the fungus from spreading.

"In the hospital (where) we have a lot of infections, this means that the organism already got hold of a patient and it's causing disease, and this means anybody who is visiting this patient, they want to make sure they stay at a distance, wash hands, make sure you don't really touch surfaces -- the bedding, the table in the room," Ghannoum said.

"And really, most importantly, if we have somebody with the infection, it will be very important to put them in their own room separate from other patients so that we really stop the transfer of this infection from one person to the other."

He had a message for doctors and nurses on the front lines:

"I really would like people -- especially clinicians -- to think fungus. For example, if a patient is in hospital and he has or she has an infection, it's very important to take the sample, send it to the lab for testing. But also, what we tend when we think a person has infection, the clinicians they give antibiotics. If an antibiotic does not improve the symptoms of a patient in four days, then please, start thinking fungus because it could be fungus and not bacteria that's causing the disease."

Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center Chief Medical Officer Dr. Steven Merta said "targeted testing, enhanced isolation, high-level cleaning practices and advanced infection prevention technologies" are in use to keep patients, colleagues and visitors safe. See Merta's full statement in our original story.