The germ, a fungus called Candida Auris, preys on people with weakened immune systems, and it is quietly spreading across the globe. Over the past five years, it has hit a neonatal unit in Venezuela, swept through a hospital in Spain, forced a prestigious British medical center to shut down its intensive care unit, and taken root in India, Pakistan and South Africa.
What is Candida Auris?
It’s a fungus that, when it gets into the bloodstream, can cause dangerous infections that can be life-threatening. Scientists first identified it in 2009 in a patient in Japan. In recent years, it has been emerged around the world, largely in hospitals and nursing homes. There have been 587 cases reported in the US, while it has spread to the corners of the world, from Venezuela to Spain to Pakistan and India.
Why it is dangerous?
It’s often resistant to major antifungal drugs. More than 90% of infections are resistant to at least one such drug, while 30% to two or more major drugs. Once the germ is present, it is hard to eradicate from a facility. Some hospitals have had to bring in special cleaning equipment and even rip out the floor and calling tiles to get rid of it.
Who’s at risk?
People with a weak immune system are the most vulnerable. This includes elderly people who’re already sick. In one case, newborns were also infected at a neonatal unit.
Why haven’t people heard about this?
In part because it is new, but also because outbreaks have at times been played down or kept confidential by hospitals, doctors, and even governments- in many cases with the aim of avoiding scaring the public.
Because it is impervious to major antifungal medications, making it a new example of one of the world’s most intractable health threats: the rise of drug resistant infections.
Simply put, fungi, just like bacteria, are evolving defenses to survive modern medicines.
Yet as the problem grows, it is little understood by the public — in part because the very existence of resistant infections is often cloaked in secrecy.
With bacteria and fungi alike, hospitals and local governments are reluctant to disclose outbreaks for fear of being seen as infection hubs.
All the while, the germs are easily spread — carried on hands and equipment inside hospitals; ferried on meat and manure-fertilized vegetables from farms; transported across borders by travelers and on exports and imports; and transferred by patients from nursing home to hospital and back.
This hushed panic is playing out in hospitals around the world. Individual institutions and national, state and local governments have been reluctant to publicize outbreaks of resistant infections, arguing there is no point in scaring patients — or prospective ones.
The symptoms — fever, aches, and fatigue — are seemingly ordinary, but when a person gets infected, particularly someone already unhealthy, such commonplace symptoms can be fatal.
Workers who care for patients infected with C Auris worry for their own safety. The mystery of C auris’ emergence remains unsolved, and its origin seems, for the moment, to be less important than stopping its spread.