“It’s like the creature from the black lagoon,” says Tom Chiller, head of the CDC’s fungal department. “It bubbled up and now it is everywhere.”
Mr. Chiller is describing Candida auris, a harmless yeast that in recent years has mutated into a contagious infection.
Like other superbugs, C. auris resists antibiotics and is found primarily in hospitals and other healthcare facilities. The bacteria can survive on surfaces such as bedrails and chairs, even when those surfaces are treated with hydrogen peroxide.
- auris can be life-threatening for children, the elderly, and patients with compromised immune systems. Early symptoms include: fever, fatigue, and body aches.
To make matters worse, detection of C. auris often requires the use of specialized lab equipment.
The CDC issued its first warning about drug-resistant C. auris in 2016 after the infection was discovered inside the ear of a patient in Japan. Since then, C. auris has been reported in England, India, Spain, and Venezuela.
There have been 587 documented cases of C. auris in the United States.
Distinct variations detected in C. auris strains from different regions suggest the superbug is evolving simultaneously throughout the world, rather than spreading from a single point of origin.
Some researchers blame the bacteria’s drug resistance on our use of fungicide on crops, pointing to known examples of antibiotic-resistant bacteria resulting from the overuse of antibiotics on farm animals.
“The challenge of emerging drug-resistant threats like C. auris highlights the need for an urgent, comprehensive, federal, state, local, and international public health response,” writes the CDC.
According to CDC estimates, more than one-third of C. auris strains resist two of the three antifungal drug treatments available. A smaller percentage of strains resists all treatments.
The good news is that we still have time to stop the spread of C. auris in the United States if healthcare facilities work together in following CDC guidelines – including isolation for patients with the infection as well as more thorough cleansing of patients’ rooms after discharge.