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March 21, 2023

Candida auris, a deadly fungal infection, is spreading rapidly in hospitals. Here's what to know

The drug-resistant fungus kills at least one-third of the people it infects, the CDC says

Illness Superbugs
Candida auris infections CDC Public Health Image Library/Public Domain

Candida auris, a deadly and drug-resistant fungal infection that has spread rapidly in health care facilities, is now present in more than half of U.S. states, including Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

Candida auris, a deadly fungal infection that is resistant to drugs, has spread through U.S. health care facilities at "an alarming rate" in recent years, a new U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report warns.

Candida auris, also known as C. auris, is a type of yeast or fungus. Though it is not considered a threat to healthy people, it can cause severe illnesses among people in hospitals or nursing homes. And it often resists multiple anti-fungal drugs,  allowing it to spread easily within health care facilities.

C. auris infections have been growing at a rapid pace since the fungus was first detected in the U.S. in 2016, the CDC report said. Data suggests the fungus kills at least one-third of the people it affects, but that is based on information from a limited number of patients, many of whom had other serious illnesses. 

Health officials fear that the fungus could spread into communities without proper containment efforts, as happened with MRSA, a drug-resistant bacteria that previously was limited to health care facilities, NBC reported.

C. auris infections tripled from 476 in 2019 to 1,471 in 2021, according to the CDC report, which was based on data from state and local health departments. During that same stretch, the number of people who were found to be carrying the fungus – but not infected by it – nearly quadrupled from 1,077 to 4,040. 

C. auris is now present in more than half of U.S. states, including Pennsylvania and New Jersey. In 2022, there were 33 clinical cases in Pennsylvania and 94 in New Jersey.

The CDC is urging health care providers to be on alert for C. auris infections and to practice good infection control when a patient tests positive for the fungal infection.

Here is what you need to know about Candida auris:

Who is at most risk? 

People who have been hospitalized in a health care facility for a long time, have a catheter or other types of tubes inserted in their body, or previously have received antibiotics or antifungal medications, appear to be at highest risk of a Candida auris infection. Having undergone recent surgery and having diabetes are also risk factors. People of all ages can get infected with the fungus.

What are the most common symptoms?

A Candida auris infection can be hard to differentiate from other fungal infections because it has similar symptoms. And because the infections occur most often in patients who are already very sick, the symptoms may be hard to distinguish from those caused by their other conditions. 

The most common symptoms are a high fever with chills, and a fungal infection that doesn't get better with treatment. The infection often affects the ears, bloodstream or wounds. 

When left untreated, a Candida auris infection can lead to coma or death as it spreads throughout the body and into the bloodstream.

How are C. auris infections treated? 

For most infections, treatment with a type of antifungal drugs called echinocandins usually is effective. 

But when the fungus becomes resistant to all three of the main antifungal medication types, it becomes more difficult to treat. In these cases, multiple classes of antifungal drugs at high doses often are needed. 

Almost all tested samples of Candida auris from the CDC's antimicrobial resistant labs have been resistant to at least one of the classes of antifungal treatments, according to CBS.

How does it spread? 

Candida auris can spread person to person, but it also spreads through contaminated surfaces and equipment. That is why proper infection control is important in hospitals and long-term care facilities.

University of California, San Francisco Health experts advise people to follow these precautions:

• If a loved one has a C. auris infection, make sure they are isolated from others.• Always wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer before and after touching someone with an infection or the equipment in the room.• Don't be afraid to speak up if you notice that health care providers are not properly following infection control policies.• These precautions also should be taken in the case of a patient who is carrying, but not infected by, the fungus. 

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