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CDC concerned about fatal, drug-resistant fungus found in healthcare facilities

The agency says Candida auris is easily misidentified and a serious health threat

Photo (c) Dr_Microbe - Getty Images
A drug-resistant superbug, called Candida auris, “presents a serious global health threat,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The federal health agency says the fungus has been found in healthcare facilities in 12 states.

The majority of the 587 reported cases were in New York, New Jersey, and Illinois. Other cases have been reported in California, Connecticut, Florida, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Texas, and Virginia.

The CDC says the fungus primarily affects patients who already have health problems and have had frequent hospital stays or live in nursing homes.

“C. auris is more likely to affect patients who have weakened immune systems from conditions such as blood cancers or diabetes, receive lots of antibiotics, or have devices like tubes going into their body (for example, breathing tubes, feeding tubes, catheters in a vein, or bladder catheters),” the agency said.

Identifying C. auris

The fungus -- which can live on surfaces for several weeks -- tends to be easily misidentified since it often appears in those who are already sick. Misidentifying the fungus could put patients at risk of receiving the wrong treatment.

“Symptoms of C. auris infection depend on the part of the body affected,” the CDC explained. “C. auris can cause many different types of infection, such as bloodstream infection, wound infection, and ear infection. Because symptoms can vary greatly, a laboratory test is needed to determine whether a patient has a C. auris infection.”

The agency noted that the invasive C. auris infections -- such as those that affect the blood, heart, or brain -- result in death for more than one in three patients. While most strains of the fungus appear to be resistant to at least one antifungal drug, most C. auris infections do respond to treatment with a class of antifungal medications known as echinocandins.

Avoiding it

With the number of reported cases of C. auris continuing to rise, the CDC says it’s important for patients and healthcare workers to take certain precautions in healthcare facilities.

Though healthy people aren’t likely to be affected by Candida auris, it’s recommended that anyone who is around a patient with C. auris (including healthcare workers) practice good hygiene and wash their hands thoroughly.

“C. auris can spread between patients in healthcare facilities and cause outbreaks. In this way, it appears to behave much like some multidrug-resistant bacteria,’’ CDC expert Tom Chiller told USA Today.

To reduce the chance of a patient with Candida auris spreading the fungus to other patients, the CDC recommends placing the patient in a room without a roommate and cleaning the room frequently with a high-grade disinfectant.

The agency said it’s continuing to investigate the spread of the fungus and working with laboratories to determine the best way to detect and treat it.

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