Health officials are warning the public about a deadly fungus called Candida auris (C. auris). C. auris is frightening to health experts who see it as yet another “superbug” that’s resistant to standard treatments. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) describe C. auris as “an emerging multidrug-resistant yeast that can cause invasive infection and death.”
The fungus has been reported most frequently in hospitals and nursing homes and is spread when people come into contact with contaminated individuals, surfaces or objects. Medical researchers are attempting to determine where C. auris originated, how it was able to spread in such a short period of time, why some strains are resistant to conventional treatment and how the fungus is able to wreak havoc and death so quickly.
Here’s what you need to know about the Candida auris.
1. The CDC Calls Candida auris a “Serious Global Threat”
C. auris first popped up in 2009 when it was isolated in the ear of a 70-year-old woman. Its name is derived from “auris,” the Latin word for ear. In the 10 years since its debut, the fungus has spread rapidly around the globe and has now been positively identified throughout Asia, Africa, the Americas, and Europe.
The CDC says that symptoms typically include fever and chills that don’t respond to antibiotics and rest. The elderly, infants and people with compromised immune systems are at greatest risk of contracting Candia auris.
On June 24, 2016, the CDC issued a “Clinical Alert to Healthcare Facilities” warning them about C. auris after receiving reports that the pathogen was killing patients in hospitals worldwide. It spread easily, killed rapidly and preyed upon each healthcare facility’s weakest patients. In a 2018 study appearing in Emerging Infectious Diseases, 45% of patients with C. auris died within 90 days. It’s unclear to researchers if its the fungus that causes death or if Candida auris weakens a person’s immune system to such a degree that the patient succumbs to other maladies.
2. Candida auris Is on the Rise
Health experts have growing concerns that Candida auris has the ability to spread rapidly. Researchers are troubled that the germ suddenly appeared and then quickly traveled around the world. Unlike most other Candida infections, C. auris can be transmitted from person to person and may be present in the blood, urine, and lungs.
The disease’s knack for spreading easily through medical facilities and nursing homes. Tough to destroy, C. auris can remain in the environment even after a thorough cleaning and hide in nooks and crannies. In some cases, medical facililaties have been forced to tear out flooring and ceiling tiles as part of their decontamination process.
3. C. auris Can Be Resistant to Anti-Fungal Drugs
Unlike other types of yeast infections, Candida auris has been found to have varying degrees of resistance to the three classes of drugs that have traditionally been successful in treating fungal infections. One study showed that 98% of C. auris samples were resistant to one of the three classes of available drugs and one third are resistant to two. Because drug development is a lengthy process, most health officials are concentrating on trying to keep the fungus in check.
Researchers are searching for answers as to how C. auris developed a resistance to anti-fungal medications. One theory is that the use of crop fungicides has created a pathogen that’s evolved and learned how to outwit its killer. “C auris may not represent a new organism so much as one that is newly emerging in various clinical settings. Although the causes for such emergence are unknown, they may include new or increasing antifungal selection pressures in humans, animals, or the environment,” the CDC wrote in the June 2016 announcement to healthcare facilities.
4. The Fungus Is Difficult to Identify
Candida auris can be challenging to identify because the symptoms are so similar to the flu or common cold that testing for the fungus is often overlooked.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced in April 2018 that it had approved the first rapid test for C. Auris, with results in under an hour compared to traditional testing which took 24-48 hours. The rapid test was able to positively identify C. auris 100% of the time.
5. New York Currently Has the highest number of Cases in the U.S.
According to the CDC Most of the confirmed C. Auris cases in the U.S. have been discovered in New York and New Jersey. New York has had 309 confirmed cases, New Jersey has had 104 and Illinois had had 144.
The New York State Department of Health has stated on their website that they are taking “aggressive” action to keep C. auris in check and have instituted a number of protocols in hospitals and nursing homes throughout the state. These protocols include site reviews to assess infection control compliance,” testing environmental samples and requiring clinical staff to participate in advanced infection control educational programs.