Deadly fungus spreading in U.S. with approximately 60% mortality

Apr 28, 2023, 2:35 PM | Updated: 3:13 pm

candida auris...

Candida auris is a yeast responsible for many infections. Resistant to most antifungal drugs, this fungus causes several deaths worldwide. Optical microscope view. (Photo by: BSIP/Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

(Photo by: BSIP/Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued a warning about a drug-resistant strain of fungus, Candida auris, spreading in healthcare facilities in the United States.

“The rapid rise and geographic spread of cases is concerning and emphasizes the need for continued surveillance, expanded lab capacity, quicker diagnostic tests, and adherence to proven infection prevention and control,” said CDC epidemiologist Dr. Meghan Lyman in a press release.

Candida auris is a fungal organism, first identified from a swab of an ear from a person in Japan in 2009 and, at the time, was associated with other inner ear infections, according to the University of Washington’s (UW) Department of Infectious Diseases & Tropical Medicine.

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“Unfortunately, shortly thereafter, it was noted as a cause of bloodstream infections in a case in South Korea in 2011. And by 2016, it has spread to multiple countries, including the U.S.,” said Dr. Ellora Karmarkar with UW School of Medicine. “I want to make it really clear that patients that are often at the highest risk of colonization or illness are those who are already quite ill for other reasons. So they may be on a ventilator, they may have a tracheostomy tube, or they may have other intravenous catheters due to their underlying severe illness that can be completely unrelated to Candida.”

Those who are most at risk are people who are critically ill or recovering from critical illness, often in high acuity healthcare environments who require ventilators, intravenous catheters, or tracheostomies. Candida auris can spread pretty easily from person to person in healthcare facilities as well as hospitals.

“In 2016, there were only 53 cases of this in the U.S.,”  Dr. Gordon Cohen, M.D. said on Seattle’s Morning News. “But this past year, there were 2,377 people who were infected with this particular fungal infection. The problem with it is that Candida auris has a mortality rate of around 60%.”

The fungus can cause a bloodstream infection, according to CDC. Fever, chills, sweats, and low blood pressure are the most common symptoms of a Candida auris infection.

Candida auris can live on surfaces for several weeks.

Concurrently, HBO’s hit drama ‘The Last of Us’ deals with a viral, fungal pandemic, causing increased panic among the public. The fungus, referred to in the show only as “cordyceps,” is a fictional, mutated form of the real-life Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, a fungal infection found in tropical locations that has the unfortunately apt nickname “zombie ant fungus,” according to The Wrap.

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“The reason I was sort of taken with this opening scene of this show was because it was so well done, and when they have one epidemiologist saying a fungal infection of this kind is real, but not for humans,” Cohen said. “But the other epidemiologist counters, saying while that’s true, fungi cannot survive [their] host’s internal temperatures above 94 degrees, and, currently, there are no reasons for fungi to evolve to be able to withstand higher temperatures. But what if that were to change?

“And, at that point, he goes on to basically describe global warming, and in the end, he says there are no treatments for this. No preventatives. No cures. They don’t exist, and it’s not even possible to make them. So if that happens, we lose. It makes for a good movie, but you know what? It’s real.”

“You’re saying that part’s not made up?” Dave Ross, co-host of Seattle’s Morning News.

“That part is not made up,” Cohen said. “It’s real.”

“Well, that is somewhat unsettling,” Ross responded.

Listen to Seattle’s Morning News with Dave Ross and Colleen O’Brien weekday mornings from 5 – 9 a.m. on KIRO Newsradio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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Deadly fungus spreading in U.S. with approximately 60% mortality