CDC, NC health leaders warn of drug-resistant fungal threat in care facilities
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services are warning nursing homes, hospitals and other care facilities about the spread of a highly contagious, hard-to-treat fungal infection, Candida auris.Posted — Updated
"Candida is common. It causes disease such as thrush or vaginitis," said Dr. David Weber, medical director of the NC state program on infection control and epidemiology. The strain in question, Candia auris, means ear, and was first found in the ears of a patient in Japan in 2009, Weber explained.
Since then, it has spread to all continents.
A study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, evaluated cases of Candida auris reported to the CDC from 2016 to 2021 and found that clinical cases increased each year, rising from 53 in 2016 to 330 in 2018 and then skyrocketing from 476 in 2019 to 1,471 in 2021.
The CDC has called Candida auris an "urgent threat" because it is often multidrug-resistant, easily spreads through health care facilities and can cause deadly disease. It is also resistant to some common disinfectants and can be carried on people's skin without causing symptoms, facilitating its spread to others.
"Patients who get it on the skin, it can stay on for weeks and months," Weber said.
If the fungus gets into the body, into the bloodstream for instance, the mortality rate is high, he said, in part because it is resistant to many usual anti-fungal drugs and in part because it can be difficult to diagnose.
The risk, Weber said, is mostly to those in a health care setting.
"This is not like COVID," he said. "Normal healthy people are not at risk. It's older people, particularly in the hospital, in an intensive care unit for a prolonged period of time."
WRAL News reached out to several area nursing homes and hospitals about what they are doing to contain the threat.
Late last year, the World Health Organization released its first list of "fungal priority pathogens," including Candida auris.
"Fungal pathogens are a major threat to public health as they are becoming increasingly common and resistant to treatment with only four classes of antifungal medicines currently available," WHO says.
Candida auris itself first appeared as four strains on four continents between 2009 and 2015. All four strains have now been identified in the US, probably introduced through international travel, the CDC says. There have been five known cases of Candida auris in North Carolina,
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