The fungus called Candida Auris (or C. Auris for short), was first detected in the United States in 2016, but is now spreading at an “alarming” rate, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned this week.
Doctors are assuring the public that it’s not going to take over the world and kill us all, but it is something we need to be aware of.
“It’s something we’ve been tracking for probably 10 years,” said infectious disease specialist Dr. Michelle Barron.
Between 2019 and 2021, clinical cases of Candida auris tripled. The fungus has now been reported in 28 states, according to the CDC.
“The fact that it’s increasing in number and also increasing in terms of where we can find it is kind of a combination that’s very disturbing,” said Dr. Bruce Hirsch at Northwell Health in New York.
Candida auris is so concerning because it is often resistant to anti-fungal drugs, making it hard to treat infections. It can also be hard to identify with standard lab tests, making it even more difficult to treat properly and early.
“In the past we’ve seen resistance very, very occasionally, but that low level of resistance is now tripled according to the recent report,” Hirsch said.
While the fungus usually isn’t a significant threat to healthy people, the CDC said, Candida auris outbreaks are a big threat in health care settings, where the fungus can enter patients’ bloodstreams and cause severe, deadly infections.
“It can make people very sick when it invades through the skin into the bloodstream,” said Barron.
“It can cause damage in the different organs, it can cause stroke, it can cause eye problems, it can cause blindness,” said Hirsch.
Sick people, those staying in the hospital long-term, and patients with invasive medical devices (like catheters or breathing tubes) are most vulnerable.
The fungus also has the ability to survive on surfaces like walls and bedding. The CDC is recommending health care settings, like hospitals and also nursing homes, use proper hygiene and disinfecting procedures to prevent the fungus from spreading.
As with preventing many illnesses, hand washing is also a helpful prevention tool here.
Common symptoms of a Candida auris overlap with symptoms of other infections, including fever and chills. A lab test is the only way to determine if someone has been infected by the fungus.