Washington State Fungal Infection

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Topline

An outbreak of a multi-drug resistant fungal infection in Washington state was reported earlier this week, and although infection is rare, experts warn its high mortality rate, drug resistance and ability to easily spread in healthcare facilities may be cause for concern.

Optical microscope view of Candida auris.

BSIP/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Key Facts

The Seattle and King County public health department announced Tuesday it identified three confirmed cases of Candida auris infection last week, after an initial case was confirmed on January 10.

Candida auris is a type of fungus that grows as yeast, and though it’s rare, it can cause severe illness and spread easily because it’s typically resistant to antifungal medications, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

All four people were patients of Kindred Hospital Seattle, and the first confirmed case was detected through a “proactive screening program” during admission to the hospital, according to the news release from King County officials.

The other three patients initially tested negative for the fungus when they were first admitted, though additional testing revealed they were positive, suggesting they were infected during their stay at the hospital.

Local officials still haven’t identified the source of the outbreak, but they’re working with Kindred Hospital to keep transmissions down by keeping infected patients isolated, and notifying facilities that admit patients who were previously at Kindred.

The CDC issued a warning in May 2023 about an uptick of Candida auris cases spreading in healthcare facilities, labeling it an “urgent antimicrobial resistant threat.”

Big Number

2,377. That’s how many Candida auris infections were reported in the U.S. in 2022—the year with the most up-to-date data—according to the CDC. Some 5,754 other people were found to have Candida auris somewhere on their body that same year, though they weren’t sick or had an active infection.

Key Background

Candida auris was first identified in Japan in 2009, where it was spotted in a patient’s ear secretion. The U.S. first began tracking infections in 2016, and it was discovered that cases dated back to 2013 in the country. Cases have since grown every year and have been reported in 36 states as of 2022, with the most drastic increase occurring during the Covid pandemic between 2020 and 2021, where the U.S. saw a 94% increase, according to CDC data. Around 95% of cases occurred in five states between 2013 and 2020: New York (41%), Illinois (26%), New Jersey (14%), California (8%) and Florida (7%). Around 90% of Candida auris strains are resistant to at least one antifungal, while 30% are resistant to at least two. Part of the reason the infection spreads so quickly is because it’s often misdiagnosed as a different fungus and not treated properly, and spreads easily through healthcare facilities. This is because the infection can live on surfaces for at least two weeks, according to a 2017 study published in the Journal of Clinical Microbiology. In comparison to Covid, the coronavirus can survive on surfaces for up to three days, researchers from the National Institute of Health found.

Tangent

Candida auris can cause severe infection and hospitalization in some patients. It’s particularly deadly in healthcare patients with serious medical issues, as one in three people with an invasive Candida auris infection—which affects places like the heart, brain and blood—die. The fungus can cause infection in different parts of the body like an open wound or the lungs, the CDC reports, though bloodstream infection is the most common. There’s not a specific set of symptoms, as it has similar symptoms to other fungal infections. Symptoms of fungal infections include fever, chills, soreness, rashes, low blood pressure, muscle aches, shortness of breath, a cough, joint pain, pain while eating, fatigue, headache or discolored, brittle nails.

Further Reading

UPDATE ON C. AURIS – THE PARTNERS FOR PATIENT SAFETY PROGRAM SCREENING AND CASES (Public Health – Seattle and King County)

Increasing Threat of Spread of Antimicrobial-resistant Fungus in Healthcare Facilities (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

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I’m a Texas native covering the latest trends in tech, science and healthcare through explainer pieces on the breaking news team. Previously, I was a Forbes HBCU Scholar writing under the innovation and health and science teams. In 2022, I graduated from Clark Atlanta University where I was the fashion editor for CAU’s official newspaper, the Panther, and the managing editor of Her Campus CAU. During my matriculation, I interned with top companies such as Warner Bros. Discovery and The Walt Disney Company. Got a tip? Don’t hesitate to reach out to me via email (ajohnson@forbes.com), or dm me on any social media platform.

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