Drug Resistant C. Auris Fungus Emerges as New Global Health Threat

Posted on April 6, 2019

C. Auris

There is a fungus killing people with weakened immune systems in hospitals around the globe. The fungus, Candida auris, is described in a frightening New York Times story. The article says the CDC recently added C. auris to a list of germs considered "urgent threats." The fungus is difficult to kill and difficult to detect.

A man at Mount Sinai Hospital was killed by the fungus in May, 2018. C. auris continued thriving after the man perished. It was all over the man's hospital room and was so bad they had to tear out tiles in the floor and ceiling.

The man at Mount Sinai died after 90 days in the hospital, but C. auris did not. Tests showed it was everywhere in his room, so invasive that the hospital needed special cleaning equipment and had to rip out some of the ceiling and floor tiles to eradicate it.

Dr. Scott Lorin, the hospital's president, told the Times, "Everything was positive — the walls, the bed, the doors, the curtains, the phones, the sink, the whiteboard, the poles, the pump. The mattress, the bed rails, the canister holes, the window shades, the ceiling, everything in the room was positive."

Dr Tom Chiller, chief of the Mycotic Diseases Branch at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), says in a Medscape story that it can colonize a patient's skin for months or longer and can live on surfaces for a month or more.

C. auris can't be killed with major antifungal medications according to the Times. It is primarily a concern to the very young and people with compromised immune systems, but that is a large percentage of the population. That C. auris can make its way into top hospitals and thrive there is also very concerning. The fungus also led to a U.K. hospital shutting down its I.C.U. for days and it infected dozens at a hospital in Spain in recent years.

The CDC has a Candida aurus section as part of its fungal diseases section. It says there are currently 617 cases in the U.S. The fungus was first identified in 2009 and infections have now been reported in over 20 countries. U.S. laboratory staff are encouraged to notify the CDC if C. auris is identified.

The CDC says, "Healthcare facilities in several countries have reported that a type of yeast called Candida auris has been causing severe illness in hospitalized patients. In some patients, this yeast can enter the bloodstream and spread throughout the body, causing serious invasive infections. This yeast often does not respond to commonly used antifungal drugs, making infections difficult to treat."

So why did this fungus suddenly appear and start causing serious problems? Experts quoted in the article suggest the increasing use of antifungicides on crops may be the culprit.

Dr. Johanna Rhodes, an infectious disease expert at Imperial College London, tells the Times, "We are driving this with the use of antifungicides on crops."

Image: Shawn Lockhart/CDC