Deadly Fungal Infection: Candida Auris Sickens Dozens In U.S.

A deadly fungal infection, highly resistant to traditional drugs, has infected several dozen people in the United States since last summer. Known as Candida auris, the dangerous pathogen has been spreading worldwide since at least 2009.

In a memo published in June 2016, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned health practitioners about the deadly fungal infection. Candida auris was first discovered in Japan nearly eight years ago and has since spread to Colombia, India, Kenya, Israel, Kuwait, Pakistan, Venezuela, South Korea, and Great Britain.

“As soon as we put out that alert, we started to get information about cases and now we know more about how it spreads and how it’s acting,” said Tom Chiller, the CDC’s top fungal expert, per a report from the Washington Post.

Candida auris treatments and symptoms.

A total of 35 cases have been reported in the United States, with the majority of infections found in New York. Additional cases of the deadly fungal infection have been reported in Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, and Massachusetts.

According to a Digital Journal report, another 18 cases have been found, yet the patients are not showing any symptoms of the deadly fungal infection. Even with the slight surge in cases over the past few months, Candida auris infections are still considered very rare by the CDC.

Candida auris is not any ordinary yeast infection. The fungus can cause a serious blood infection and is very difficult to detect using standard test methods. Laboratories often misidentify the microbe unless a specific test is performed.

Typical yeast infections affect the mouth, throat, and vagina, yet Candida auris infects the blood, heart, brain, eyes, and bones. The CDC is asking any lab to report all identified Candida auris strains to their state or local health authorities as soon as possible.

Candida auris is yet another on the list of dangerous superbugs that are resistant to current medical treatments. Health experts fear an outbreak of the deadly fungal infection is possible as the three major antifungal drugs available on the market are ineffective against some strains of the organism. The pathogen kills roughly 60 percent of the patients who contract it.

“These pathogens are increasing, they’re new, they’re scary and they’re very difficult to combat,” said Anne Schuchat, CDC’s acting director, per the Washington Post report.

Candida auris microbes developing a resistance to known antifungal drugs.

Typical outbreaks occur in hospitals or other healthcare facilities as the organism spreads from one person to another and can live for weeks on the skin, furniture, and medical equipment. Patients with extended hospital stays, need a ventilator, or have a central line catheter are the most at risk for the deadly fungal infection.

“This is a paradigm shift, because Candida is not generally thought of as highly resistant or passed person to person,” noted Chiller.

Among seven cases of the deadly fungal infection reported to the CDC last fall, four patients died shortly after the Candida auris microorganism was identified. However, health authorities are not sure the pathogen was the direct cause of the deaths as the patients had other underlying medical conditions.

Within the U.S., there is no evidence that Candida auris is developing any new strains, making it somewhat easier to get the deadly fungus infection under control. However, variations of the microbe in other countries are quickly developing and spreading, most of which cannot be treated with standard medications.

While Candida infections are not unusual among hospital patients in the U.S., many health experts are worried the deadly strain will soon become more common. The CDC has recently offered additional money and expertise to several laboratories and hospitals to prevent further spread of the deadly fungal infection.

[Featured Image by Sean Gallup/Getty Images]