It’s like something out of a science fiction movie. But it’s real.
It’s called Candida auris. It’s a superbug with drug-resistant germs. It’s spreading in hospitals and healthcare facilities around the world. Including here in the U.S.
This unusual yeast infection has created severe illnesses in hospitalized patients. After it enters the bloodstream, it spreads throughout the body. It creates wound, ear and bloodstream infections. The symptoms are fever, aches and fatigue.
But what’s strange is that anti-fungal drugs are not helping much. In fact, healthcare personnel need specialized laboratory methods to accurately diagnose it.
The Fungus Was Everywhere
This fungus attacks those with weakened immune systems. Like the elderly man who died not too long ago at Mount Sinai Hospital in Brooklyn, New York.
After they removed him from the hospital, they looked to see if the fungus was still alive in the room. Oddly enough, it was everywhere.
They found Candida auris on the walls, the bed, the doors and the curtains. As well as on the phones, sink, bedrails, window shades and even the ceiling.
They had to take out the floor tiles and part of the ceiling to get rid of it completely. That’s how strong and tenacious this fungus is.
Who is at Risk?
As with most illnesses, some people are more at risk than others.
Most patients so far, and all those who have passed from the infection, were first hospitalized from other previous illnesses or conditions. Whether that be diabetics and those who have had recent surgeries.
Others at risk are people who have had tubes and lines going into their bodies. Including breathing tubes, feeding tubes and central venous catheters.
This means there is a limited group of people where heavy precautions should be in effect to prevent infections. These include not only hospitals, but also nursing homes and other nursing facilities.
600-Plus Cases in 12 States
A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said 654 people in the U.S. have been diagnosed with this fungus.
All of them were in hospitals, nursing homes or long-term care facilities.
Some of the states included are California, New York and Illinois. As well as Texas, Florida, Virginia, Massachusetts and Oklahoma. Plus Indiana, New Jersey, Connecticut and Maryland.
Studies show that about 50 percent of people who contract this fungal virus will succumb to the disease.
It’s a Global Problem
Of course, this is not just a U.S. problem. This fungus has been found in more than 20 countries around the world.
It was found in a neonatal intensive care unit (intensive care nursery) in Venezuela. And in a hospital in Spain and an intensive care unit in Britain.
The New York Times says it has also taken root in countries such as India, Pakistan and South Africa.
The CDC says it is highly unlikely that routine travel to other countries will spread the infection. It mainly shows up in patients who have been hospitalized for other reasons.
A Yeast ‘Acting Like Bacteria’
Hospitals and other healthcare facilities are used to dealing with the “normal” Candida fungus. Yeast infections are fairly common. But this one is different.
Dr. Tom Chiller is chief of the mycotic diseases branch of the CDC. “It’s not acting like your typical candida,” he said. “We’re used to seeing those.”
Normal candida infections occur because of broad spectrum antibiotics. They kill off both bad and good bacteria. That opens the way for yeast to take over.
“Candida auris… seems to be more of a skin organism,” he said. “It can survive on surfaces for long periods of time. It’s a yeast that’s acting like bacteria.”
Resistant to Medications
Most yeast infections will respond to antifungal drugs. But Candida auris infections are resistant to a variety of antifungal medications.
Some patients have had this fungus on their skin for up to a year without becoming sick.
Other people can become ill much more quickly. In London, 70 hospital patients were sickened from it because they used the same thermometers. Despite those thermometers being cleaned between usages.
“The nightmare scenario for me is that this organism becomes the predominant species causing candidemia in this country,” Chiller said. “That becomes a really bad scenario.”
Superbug Is ‘Top Threat’
A British government-funded study says policies must be put into place immediately. For the purpose of slowing the rise of drug resistance.
And if that doesn’t happen, 10 million people worldwide will be at risk from these infections in 2050. For comparison, 8 million people are at risk to cancer during that year.
Some scientists blame the overuse of fungicides on crops. They say it contributes to the rise in drug-resistant fungi infecting humans.
Dr. Lynn Sosa is Connecticut’s deputy state epidemiologist. She says Candida auris is the “top threat” among resistant infections. “It’s pretty much unbeatable and difficult to identify,” she said.
How Do We Fight Back?
Regardless of blame or origin of this disease, the fight against Candida auris is global.
It’s critical that medicine develops better tests, and routine practices to speed up new anti-fungal drugs to prevent any future outbreak.
That’s why groups like WHO, the CDC, and the FDA are constantly collaborating. Working to understand more about how C. auris spreads and how best to prevent, diagnose, and treat it.
Because what Candidas auris reminds us, is how much we don’t know about the dangerous superbugs that develop as man-kind evolves.