Dangers of a Deadly Fungus: The Candida auris ‘Superbug’
A fungus has recently emerged as a dangerous health threat in over a dozen countries, with 77 clinical cases reported in U.S. healthcare facilities as of mid-May, 2017. This Candida auris outbreak has proven resistant to multiple drugs, resulting in serious illness.
In some cases, the fungus enters the bloodstream, causing it to spread throughout the body and create bad infections. Thirty to 60 percent of patients infected with Candida auris have died, although many of these people also had other critical illnesses that may have increased their risk of death.
What Is Candida auris?
Candida auris (C. auris) was first documented in Japan in 2009. What is C. auris? It’s a fungus species that grows as yeast. It’s considered an “emerging multidrug-resistant (MDR) yeast” because it resists many drugs, including fluconazole, amphotericin B and echinocandins. Candida auris can live on objects such as bedrails, chairs, catheters and other medical and hospital equipment, as well as on the hands of healthcare professionals.
Because the deadly fungus is resistant to so many drugs, Candida auris is considered a “superbug.” Drug resistant superbugs are a worry to healthcare providers and agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which is tasked with finding ways to better control infections. Dr. Anne Schuchat, acting director of the CDC, has called Candida auris a “big threat and a wake-up call.”
How does resistance form? Bacteria and fungi become resistant to antibiotics and antifungals due to over-prescription, improper use of medication and the use of antibiotics in livestock. The more the bacteria is exposed to the antibiotics, the more it adapts and becomes resistant, creating superbugs.
Candida auris can become invasive, meaning it enters the bloodstream, perhaps through an infected catheter. Invasive candidiasis spreads throughout the body, unlike localized Candida infections in the mouth and throat or vaginal yeast infections.
Candida auris Symptoms
Because many patients with C. auris infections are often already sick in the hospital with other serious illnesses or conditions, symptoms may not be noticeable. Symptoms also vary depending on the body part affected. A laboratory test is needed to find out if a patient has C. auris. (9) When symptoms are identified, they can include:
- Sepsis (blood poisoning)
- Little or no response or improvement with conventional antifungal therapy
- Organ failure
Causes & Risk Factors of Candida auris
How do you catch Candida auris? In general, limited data suggest that the risk factors for Candida auris infections aren’t that much different to other types of Candida infections. These risk factors include:
- Recent surgery
- Broad-spectrum antibiotic and antifungal use
- Central venous catheter use, breathing tubes, feeding tubes, bladder catheters
- Frequent hospital stays or living in nursing homes
- Weakened immune system
While infections have been diagnosed in patients of all ages, from preterm infants to seniors, healthy people don’t get C. auris infections.
Candida auris Treatment
Candida auris is treated with a class of antifungal medications called echinocandins. Because some C. auris infections are resistant to all three main classes of antifungal medications, in these cases more than one antifungal medication given at high doses may be needed to treat the infection.
Given that Candida auris can spread easily from patient to patient in healthcare settings, certain patient precautions are necessary. These precautions include:
- The patient is placed in a room alone, without a roommate.
- Healthcare workers wear protective clothing, including gowns and gloves, when caring for the infected patient.
- Patients, family members and healthcare workers must practice good hygiene, including washing their hands regularly.
5 Steps to Prevent Candida auris Infections
Here are five steps you can take to help prevent the spread of C. auris:
1. Wash your hands thoroughly before visiting a sick loved one’s hospital or nursing home room.
2. Don’t be afraid to speak up if you see a healthcare professional, including nurses and doctors, not washing their hands properly, either before entering the room or after handling a patient’s wound, blood or bodily fluids.
3. When visiting, ask if there are any patients at the facility who are infected with C. auris and make sure that personnel are taking appropriate precautions to prevent further spread of the infection.
4. Be sure that the hospital or nursing home is cleaning the facility properly and with effective disinfectants. So far researchers have found that the best product to combat C. auris is an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) registered hospital disinfectant that is also effective against Clostridium difficile (C. diff) spores.
5. If the patient is put on IV antibiotics, ask the nurse or doctor if this is in fact needed as IV antibiotics can pose a serious risk factor for invasive candida.
- Candida auris is a serious yeast-like infection that can be resistant to multiple antifungal medications.
- C. auris can spread throughout the body as invasive candida, leading to very serious, and possibly deadly, infection.
- Hospital and nursing home patients who are already sick and/or have a weakened immune system are at the greatest risk of becoming infected.
- Be sure to follow important health safety precautions to prevent the spread of C. auris to your loved ones and others. Regular hand washing is especially important.