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Fatal fungus linked to deaths: What you need to know

GLENN ELLIS | 5/8/2017, 9:35 a.m.
Most women – and some men – are familiar with yeast infections. While they are no doubt an uncomfortable nuisance, ...

Strategies for Well-Being

Most women – and some men – are familiar with yeast infections. While they are no doubt an uncomfortable nuisance, they are rarely dangerous. Or at least we thought.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a new strain of drug-resistant yeast infections has recently been reported spreading throughout the globe. Not only is it resistant to medications, it’s also highly fatal!

Candida auris is an emerging fungus that presents a serious global health threat.

People in the United States have been sickened by this deadly form of drug-resistant yeast that has spread across the world since 2009. The fungus has killed approximately 61 people in the United States to date and has an estimated 60 percent fatality rate.

C. auris was first identified in Japan in 2009. Since then, infections have also been reported in countries including Canada, Colombia, Germany, India, Israel, Kenya, Kuwait, Norway, Pakistan, Spain, South Africa, South Korea, the United Kingdom and Venezuela. Between May 2013 and August 2016, the first 13 cases were reported in the US. Since then, the number of infections has tripled, signaling a spike in reported cases.

Although 60 percent of people with C. auris infections outside the US have died, according to the CDC, that figure is based on a small number of patients, many of whom had other severe illnesses, making it unclear how serious the infection on its own might be.

The fungus can infect wounds, infiltrate the bloodstream and take root in the urinary tract. Not surprisingly, it is resistant to many antifungal drugs. In fact, the fungus is hard to eradicate and has led to some hospital wing closures

Unlike most common yeast infections, C. auris doesn’t usually cause thrush, but results in bloodstream, wound or ear infections instead – triggering organ failure in the worst cases.

Like other Candida infections, C. auris infections are usually diagnosed by fungal culture of blood or other body fluids. However, C. auris is harder to identify from cultures than other, more common types of Candida. For example, it can be confused with other types of yeasts, particularly Candida haemulonii. Special laboratory tests are needed to identify C. auris.

Candida auris infection may lead to the following symptoms: ear infection leading to hearing loss; wound infections after surgery; bloodstream infections (candidemia); and rarely, pericarditis (inflammation of the membrane enclosing the heart) in patients with recent heart surgery, leading to hearing loss.

Most people that acquire C. auris have no symptoms, as it can live on their skin and mucous membranes without causing infection. The risk factors for C. auris infections are likely similar to risk factors for other types of Candida infections. These risk factors include recent surgery, diabetes, broad-spectrum antibiotic and antifungal use, and central venous catheter use. Infections have been found in patients of all ages, from preterm infants to the elderly.

Some strains of C. auris are resistant to all three major classes of antifungal drugs. This type of multidrug resistance has not been seen before in other species of Candida. Also of concern, C. auris can persist on surfaces in healthcare environments and spread between patients in healthcare facilities.