Outbreak of deadly fungus C. auris hits King County

Feb 1, 2024, 2:17 PM | Updated: 3:40 pm

C. auris...

Doctors and nurses working in a hospital (Photo courtesy of KIRO 7)

(Photo courtesy of KIRO 7)

Washington is experiencing an outbreak of Candida auris (C. auris) — a fungus that can cause serious infections — after four patients within the last month have tested positive for it, according to Public Health – Seattle & King County.

The first case was identified at Kindred Hospital Seattle through its Partners for Patient Safety Program which includes proactive screenings.

“This screening is important because people often have no symptoms but can still spread it to other patients,” Public Health – Seattle & King County stated.

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Two other patients with new positive cases were found Jan. 22. A fourth case was reported four days later.

“Public Health continues to work together with Kindred to help limit spread,” Public Health – Seattle & King County’s release read. “This includes keeping patients who test positive for C. auris away from other patients to reduce risk of spread and using specific disinfecting cleaning products.”

The Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department describes C. auris as a type of yeast that can cause severe illness, especially in those suffering from serious medical conditions who have spent time in hospitals — particularly ICUs — and nursing homes. Patients who are colonized can carry and spread it even if it’s not making them sick. It can spread either from person-to-person contact or by people coming into contact with contaminated surfaces.

According to Public Health, this is the first known outbreak of C. auris in Washington. In July of last year, a Pierce County man was diagnosed with colonization due to C. auris. It was the first locally acquired case in Washington.

More on C. auris in WA: First case of deadly fungus diagnosed in Washington

“Public Health – Seattle & King County has been working with Kindred- First Hill on the Partners for Patient Safety Program for many months, with the expectation that C. auris would eventually be found in Washington State,” Public Health – Seattle & King County said. “Early identification is key to control the spread of C. auris so that prevention strategies can be in place before it becomes widespread, and we are pleased that the program is working as designed to identify cases early.”

From 2013 through 2022, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported 5,654 infections of C. auris across the U.S., including cases in Oregon, California and other Western states.

It’s a relatively new type of fungus, according to the CDC, first identified in Japan in 2009 with studies finding samples dating to South Korea in 1996.

Frank Sumrall is a content editor at MyNorthwest. You can read his stories here and you can email him here.

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