Austin Public Health says deadly fungus spreading in US is a ‘top threat’
Austin Public Health said that Candida auris (C. auris) — the often multidrug-resistant and deadly fungus — is “very concerning” and a “top threat” for the agency, though there are currently no known cases in Austin.
C. auris is a fungus that first appeared in Japan in 2009. After the initial case, the fungus showed up in several locations across the globe simultaneously, said Betsy Kirkpatrick, a disease investigator with APH.
The fungus doesn’t typically threaten healthy people, but for people who are very sick or have invasive medical devices such as catheters or ventilators, they have more than a one in three chance of dying if infected.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Monday that the fungus is a serious global health threat, saying it spread at an “alarming rate” during the first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic.
C. auris was first reported in the U.S. in 2016. From then through 2021, there were 3,270 reported clinical cases — meaning C. auris caused an infection — and 7,413 screening cases, when the fungus was detected but did not cause an infection, according to the CDC. There was one C. auris case in Austin in 2022.
“Like [all] drug-resistant organisms, they start in one location typically and slowly spread and make their way across the globe,” Kirkpatrick said. “So we’ve just watched it spread and grow more and more, but it’s still not common.”
The CDC determined the fungus to be a serious global threat because it is often resistant to multiple anti-fungal drugs, can spread easily in hospitals, and has high mortality rates, according to the CDC. In 2021, the number of infections resistant to the most common anti-fungal medication used to treat C. auris more than tripled, according to the CDC.
The fungus can be killed with bleach and UV light. The CDC cited that one reason for the increase in C. auris infections is the strain on the healthcare systems during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The most common signs of infection are fever and chills that don’t improve after a round of antibiotics, Kirkpatrick said.
“It can infect multiple body sites. You can see it in sputum, urine, and bloodstream infections,” she said.
The organism produces spores, which allows it to colonize, or spread, on surfaces and people.
“[C. auris] gets spread through multiple routes – the hands of caregivers or [equipment] going room to room that may not be cleaned between patients. And often patients acquire the organism on their skin and later develop an infection,” she said.
“It’s a top threat. So we’re doing everything we can to keep it from spreading,” Kirkpatrick continued. “It will be here. It will be here, and we will work hard to contain it.”