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Candida auris; photo courtesy of CNN

Dozens of people along the Eastern seaboard have been diagnosed with a deadly and drug-resistant fungal infection.

Federal health officials had warned physicians to be on the lookout for the pathogen since last summer, cautioning that it had been making its way across the sea from East Asia. First found in the ear of a Japanese man in 2009, the fungus has traveled from Tokyo to the Middle-East, British Isles, and Latin America. Now, in the early months of the new year, it has arrived in the United States.

A strain of yeast known by the scientific name Candida auris, the infection spreads easily from one person to the next. Healthcare workers, physicians, and hospital patients are especially vulnerable. Even after treatment, the fungus “survives for months on skin” and “for weeks on bed rails, chairs, and other hospital equipment.”

Preliminary reports and monitoring suggest that nearly 60% of people who have come into contact with auris and fallen ill have died. However, The Washington Post, which covered the outbreak beginning on Friday, noted that many individuals who passed away from the infection had other serious underlying medical conditions.

The Center for Disease Control issued a special statement concerning Candida auris and outlining several of its dangers. Foremost among them is the yeast strain’s ability to resist common antifungal drugs. Treatment can be difficult or near-impossible for persons who have been placed in intensive care units or are using catheters.

Candida auris in culture plate; photo courtesy of the CDC

Due to the fungus’s dangers being elevated in hospitals, the CDC has been trying to spread awareness of the infection to physicians, nurses, and other healthcare providers. Unfortunately, a major obstacle for doctors and lab technicians is that C. auris is very difficult to identify without specialized equipment. Unless a hospital can rapidly isolate and treat an infected patient, as well as the furniture and linen they’ve come into contact with, there is a major threat of localized contagion.

Even though C. auris has several apparent weaknesses – it doesn’t germinate or produce spores like most forms of fungi – it can still spread quickly. The fungus also doesn’t always cause harm, with only certain strains producing the “destructive enzymes that commonly help fungi establish infections in body tissue.”

Professor Mahmoud Ghannoum of the Center for Mycology at Case Western Reserve School of Medicine explained some of the difficulties facing physicians hoping to treat infected patients.

“The emerging fungal species has started to infect patients globally, causing invasive infections that are associated with a high death rate,” said Ghannoum. “It is multidrug resistant, and some strains isolated from patients are resistant to all commercially available antifungal drugs. Multidrug-resistance used to be reported for bacteria only, and now we must add fungi to the list.”

Microbiologists at Case Western did give a glimmer of hope in the form of SCY-078, a drug which is still in development but has been tested in dogs and cats.

Sources

Candida auris Questions and Answers

Deadly Drug Resistant Fungal Infection Outbreak Causing Concern In U.S.

Deadly fungal infection that doctors have been fearing now reported in U.S.

The Emerging Candida auris: Characterization of Growth Phenotype, Virulence Factors, Antifungal Activity, and Effect of SCY-078, a Novel Glucan Synthesis Inhibitor, on Growth Morphology and Biofilm Formation

Fatal Fungus Linked to 4 New Deaths—What You Need to Know

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