Potential deadly fungus spreading in U.S. hospitals, though few cases in central Ohio
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last month issued a warning about Candida auris (C. auris), an emerging fungus that shows resistance to existing antifungal treatments and is spreading rapidly in healthcare facilities across the country.
Since it was first reported in 2016, the CDC has recorded a total of 3,270 clinical C. auris cases (in which infection is present) and 7,413 screening cases (in which the fungus is detected but not causing infection) reported through Dec. 31, 2021.
Unlike the causes of superficial issues such as athlete's foot or yeast infections, this fungus can reach deep inside the body and cause life-threatening illness.
Dr. Christina Liscynesky is an infectious disease physician at Ohio State and hospital epidemiologist for the James Cancer Center.
She said C. auris patients often come from nursing homes and have already weakened immune systems.
"So we are concerned about fungal infections in our immunocompromised patients. In healthy adults, you are exposed to a great number of different pathogens on a daily basis and your body is able to fight them off fine," Liscynesky said.
OSU has been passively testing for C. auris for a few years now, and began doing active surveillance for the fungus in high-risk units last year, Liscynesky said.
She said procedures are in place to put patients in isolation if they are identified with a C. auris infection.
"And then in addition to our cleaning procedures, we're really fortunate at Ohio State, we have a very robust UV light disinfection program, and we use the UV lights to disinfect some rooms after patients leave for an extra layer of cleanliness," Liscynesky said.
While C. auris' antimicrobial resistance is a concern, Liscynesky said situations like this usually prompt pharmaceutical companies to do more research to find new drugs to better treat different types of infections.
"Probably back 20 years ago, people were very concerned about MRSA spread. It was in the news, things like that, and now we have many antibiotics to treat MRSA," she said.
Data from the Ohio Department of Health shows there have been more than 400 C. auris cases recorded across the state since May 2020, concentrated mainly in Hamilton and Cuyahoga counties.