Candida Auris: An Emerging Threat to Weak Immune Systems

Candida Auris: An Emerging Threat to Weak Immune Systems

Candida auris is a type of toxic yeast that was first observed in Japan in 2009. Over the last 10 years, this “superbug” has been found in over 30 countries, including the United States. And it is most commonly spread by direct contact with either an infected person or a contaminated surface.

Despite representing a relatively significant threat to vulnerable populations, many adults are completely unaware that this treacherous little microbe exists. Here are some quick facts about C. auris, including what makes it such a formidable foe and how you can help stop its spread: 

Why is Candida auris dangerous?

Although a fungal infection in the bloodstream (or, really, any part of the body) is never a “good” thing, C. auris is comparatively hazardous for three major reasons:

  • It is resistant to many of the well-known, commonly prescribed antifungal drugs currently available. Thus, once an infection sets it, it can be exceedingly difficult to treat.
  • C. auris’s knack for infecting people with weakened immune systems (e.g., the elderly or infirm) means that outbreaks often occur in settings like hospitals, doctor’s offices, or nursing homes. Because the microbes can linger on surfaces for several weeks, it is easy for healthcare workers (and well-meaning family members) to accidentally spread them around.
  • C. auris infections are hard to identify with standard laboratory equipment. Unless a sample is specifically tested for C. auris, patients may be misdiagnosed with a different kind of illness. This can result in delayed or improper management.

When left untreated, this fungus can result in serious bloodstream infections, wound infections, and ear infections. The survival rate for C. auris is difficult to determine because its victims are usually people who are already sick with serious illnesses; however, according to the CDC, between 30 and 60% of patients with invasive C. auris infections (that is, an infection in their blood, heart, or brain) die.

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What are the symptoms of a Candida auris infection?
The most common indicators of C. auris are fever and chills that do not respond to antibiotics. Unfortunately, because these types of infections are most commonly seen in people who are already sick, it is very possible for the symptoms to go unnoticed. The patient (or caregiver) may mistake them for signs of a different illness.

How is Candida auris detected?

The only way to test for C. auris is through molecular fungal testing—one specially designed to detect the toxin. Other tests may misidentify C. auris as a different type of Candida, which can complicate a patient’s treatment plan. For this reason, more and more medical facilities have begun testing for C. auris as a precaution when a patient tests positive for other Candida. Meanwhile, specialized mycotoxin testing often have the means to test patients and specific environments for C. auris directly.

How can I help stop the spread of Candida auris?

C. auris can be difficult to beat, but there are things that people—especially those working in the healthcare field—can do to keep it at bay.
Here are some tips:

  • Practice good hygiene. Keeping your hands clean with soap and water or hand sanitizer is a great strategy for preventing the spread of harmful microbes, and it is vitally important when C. auris is involved. Always take the time to sanitize your hands after touching a person afflicted with C. auris or their personal items (e.g., medical equipment, clothing, etc.). If you work in a medical setting or another place where C. auris infections typically occur, remind co-workers and other employees to be mindful, as well.
  • Suit up. Use gloves, gowns, and other protective equipment when interacting with C. auris patients. Pairing this measure with proper hygiene practices (see the previous point) can serve as a two-layer defense.
  • Stay alert. Keep your ears open for news of C. auris outbreaks. If one happens in your general area, be on high alert for symptoms of the infection and take evasive action to protect high-risk people. And if an outbreak occurs among patients or residents under your professional care, it should be reported to the health department as soon as possible.

Due to how recently Candida auris was discovered, doctors and scientists know considerably less about it than they do other microbes. And as long as it continues to resist antifungal medications, it is going to be a major hazard to folks with compromised immune systems. At this point in time, preventing infections with environmental tests and safety precautions really is significantly easier than treating the illness.
Photo courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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