Federal health officials warn that nearly 600 cases of Candida Auris infections in hospitals, nursing homes and other facilities have been reported in the United States since 2016, raising serious concerns about the emerging health risk linked to the fungus.
In a warning on March 29, the U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) called Candida Auris is a “serious global health threat” to the country.
Candida auris is a fungus that was first seen in Japan in 2009 and came to the U.S. in 2015. Since it first arrived in the country, the infection has spread dramatically, especially at hospitals and nursing homes.
Since 2016, the CDC has reported 587 confirmed cases, 30 probable cases, and more than 1,000 people who tested positive for candida auris colonization, meaning the fungus is living on their body but not making them ill.
C.auris is not a threat to most healthy people. However, in people with weakened immune systems the fungal infection can be serious and life threatening. Roughly 30-60% of people who get C. auris die within 90 days. However, many of those people were already sick with other conditions, which is what made them more susceptible to the infection.
The infection is primarily a hospital-acquired infection, contracted at health care facilities, like hospitals and nursing homes. Patients can carry C. auris for a long time on their bodies without getting sick.
The fungus acts like a bacteria because it can stick to and live on surfaces in healthcare environments, including medical equipment, light switches, mattresses, bed rails, and the hands of doctors and healthcare staff.
It is difficult to kill and treat C. auris, which is how the infection spreads so easily. C. auris is resistant to most disinfectants and anti-fungal medications. Some patients still have “persistent colonization” even after twice daily body washes with disinfectants.
Infections begin with a fever and chills, which can make it hard to diagnose early.
Most infections respond to echinocandins, a type of anti fungal medication. However, some strains are resistant to the main classes of drugs. This requires doctors to treat patients with multiple types of medication at much higher doses or all three classes of drugs at the same time.
The CDC first warned the public about C. auris in 2017, as reports of the infection became more frequent, especially among hospitalized patients. As confirmed cases of the infection increased to more than 122 people, the CDC issued warnings regarding the danger C. auris poses to the country.
Most cases in the U.S. were reported in New York City, New Jersey, and Chicago, but other states have also confirmed infections.
Patients can follow certain precautions to prevent candida auris infections, including frequent hand washing and requesting their doctor wash hands before examining them. However, healthcare facilities must change the way they clean and disinfect patient rooms in order to prevent infections from spreading rapidly through hospitals.
The CDC also recommends patients with C. auris be kept in the same room to prevent spreading it to other patients and to help keep extensive cleaning measures needed following C. auras infection to only certain rooms.