The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have issued a warning about the rapid spread of Candida auris, a fungus causing fatalities among hospital patients across the United States. This pathogen is part of a wider trend of escalating fungal infections in the country.
Candida auris is a recently discovered, single-cell fungus that can infect humans and is moderately resistant to existing antifungal drugs. While superficial fungal infections, such as athlete’s foot, are common, Candida auris and other related fungi can cause dangerous infections within a person’s body.
Candida auris is a type of yeast that belongs to the candida family and was first identified in 2009. Previously, most invasive candida infections were caused by Candida albicans, but in recent years, infections with species of candida that are much more resistant to drugs than Candida albicans have surged, with a nearly fivefold increase since 2019.
The groups of people most at risk of dangerous candida infections are patients in intensive care units who also have central intravenous catheters and are receiving broad-spectrum antibiotics, and patients with weak immune systems, such as cancer patients on chemotherapy or patients with human immunodeficiency virus.
Candida fungi grow in most people’s guts and on their skin as part of their microbiome. When a person is healthy, candida numbers are low, but the fungi can multiply rapidly and overwhelm a person’s immune system when the patient is sick and on antibiotics.
If candida cells on a person’s skin infect an intravenous line, the fungus can enter the patient’s bloodstream and cause often deadly bloodstream infections. Candida species are the fourth most common cause of hospital-associated bloodstream infections. Candida auris can contaminate surfaces and easily spread from patient to patient, causing outbreaks both within and between hospitals.
Preventing the spread of Candida auris requires good infection control practices, including practicing good hand hygiene, wearing isolation gowns and gloves that are carefully discarded in a patient’s room, and taking measures to detect Candida auris infections early and isolate patients to prevent the spread. Developing better drugs to treat new, antifungal-resistant strains of candida is also an option, with many new antifungal drugs already under development. However, prevention through sound infection control practices will always remain essential.