There is a nightmare of a headline.
Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put out a clinical alert to U.S. healthcare facilities about Candida auris, a multidrug-resistant yeast infection “associated with high mortality.”
The infection is not, as I initially assumed, a deadly vaginal yeast infection, which is a special sort of hell that will exist, for now, only in our collective imagination. Instead, C. auris is invasive, causing infections in the bloodstream, wounds and ears.
In an interview with the Washington Post, CDC fungus expert Tom Chiller said, “What concerned us is that it is potentially resistant to one or two, if not all three [main antifungal drug types].”
And the infection is notable because it’s so hard to identify:
Invasive infections with any type of Candida can be fatal. Based on information from a limited number of patients, 60 percent of people with this new type of Candida infection have died, but it’s not clear how many of them had other serious illnesses that also increased their risk of death.
Most hospital labs in the United States also don’t have the capacity to identify the new strain because it can be confused with other more common types of yeast. As a result, misidentification could lead to inappropriate treatment, he said.
That’s particularly important with this organism because the limited data so far suggests that the infections have occurred primarily in patients who were already in the hospital for other reasons. Unlike other types of yeast that typically spread from person to person, “this one seems to get into hospital settings and stay there,” Chiller said, and may spread from contact with the environment, such as contaminated surfaces or equipment.
It was first reported in Japan in 2009, and has since been seen in South Korea, India, South Africa, Kuwait, Colombia, Venezuela, Pakistan, and the United Kingdom. One possible infection was identified in the U.S. in 2013.
Image via sfam_photo/Shutterstock.