An outbreak of a multidrug-resistant “super fungus” has been reported in Oregon less than a year after it was reported to be spreading amongst hospitalized patients in Texas and Washington DC.
The notorious yeast, known as Candida auris, has been identified in three patients staying at the Salem Health hospital, according to the Oregon Health Authority (OHA). The first case was discovered on December 11 in a patient who had “recent international health care exposures” to the infectious pathogen. The following two cases, identified on December 23 and December 27, appear to have caught the infection from the first patient while they were staying in the hospital.
The Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC) has defined C. auris as a "serious global health threat". It’s a concern because of its multi-drug resistance, meaning infections are extremely tricky to treat with the conventional armory of antifungal medications. The pathogen is not generally a problem for healthy people, but it's a worry for hospitalized patients since it preys on those with weakened immune systems.
It was first described in 2009 after it was discovered in the ear canal of a 70-year-old woman in Tokyo. However, research indicates that multidrug-resistant C. auris managed to simultaneously emerge in Pakistan, India, South Africa, and Venezuela around this time. No one is certain why it emerged, but it’s suspected to be linked to the overuse of antifungal medication and antifungal pesticides.
Over the past decade, the mysterious yeast has been reported in patients from dozens of countries around the world, including the US, and infected over 4,700 people. Infections of this nasty “super fungus” also appear to be on the rise in recent years. In 2021, scientists reported odd cases of COVID-19 patients becoming infected with C. auris while hospitalized in Brazil. The busy hospitals and weakened immune systems of the patients provided the ideal circumstances for the multidrug-resistant infection to flourish.
Last year also saw a surprising number of cases in the US, with 123 cases being reported in Washington DC and Texas between January to April 2021. Within 30 days, 30 percent of these 123 patients had died, although a report at the time added that the "contribution of C. auris was unclear."
Back in Oregon, doctors have noted that COVID-19 has heightened the risk of C. auris breaking out in hospitals, but they insist all they're doing all they can to keep this small outbreak under control.
“Fortunately, the organism we’re dealing with in this outbreak appears to respond to existing treatments. Nonetheless, it’s critical that we prevent the spread of the infection,” Rebecca Pierce, PhD, Healthcare-Associated Infections Program manager at the OHA, said in a statement.
“With the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen a rise in multi-drug resistant organisms around the world and nationwide, and Salem is not immune,” said Jasmin Chaudhary, medical director of infection prevention at Salem Health. “Salem Health is working with OHA and the CDC to execute a rigorous plan, implementing aggressive eradication measures that have been shown in other hospitals to be successful in eliminating Candida auris. These include proactive steps that will assist in preemptively identifying new cases to prevent spread.”