We Should All Probably Freak Out About This Deadly, Drug-Resistant Fungus

Image: AP

Overprescription of antibiotics and use of pesticides could be all of our undoing if this terrifying and mysterious fungus has its way.

According to The New York Times, a fungus called Candida auris, or C. auris, is causing deaths around the globe and is nearly impossible to completely remove from infected patients’ hospital rooms and equipment. What’s more, hospitals wary of scaring off patients are remaining mum on whether or not they’re even facing outbreaks.

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C. auris is accompanied by pretty commonplace fever, aches, and fatigue, but in patients with weakened immune systems, babies, and the elderly, it can be fatal. One man who tested positive for C. auris after abdominal surgery died following 90 days in the Brooklyn branch of Mt. Sinai Hospital, but traces of C. auris lived on in his room even after extensive cleaning:

“The man at Mount Sinai died after 90 days in the hospital, but C. auris did not. Tests showed it was everywhere in his room, so invasive that the hospital needed special cleaning equipment and had to rip out some of the ceiling and floor tiles to eradicate it.

“’Everything was positive — the walls, the bed, the doors, the curtains, the phones, the sink, the whiteboard, the poles, the pump,” said Dr. Scott Lorin, the hospital’s president. “The mattress, the bed rails, the canister holes, the window shades, the ceiling, everything in the room was positive.’”

The Times reports that C. auris is so difficult to fight because it’s one of myriad bacteria and fungi that have become resistant to antibiotics and antifungals due to overprescription. Pesticides might also play a role, since azole fungicides used in soil have “created an environment so hostile that the fungi are evolving, with resistant strains surviving.”

Globally, C. auris has hit a neonatal unit in Venezuela, forced one hospital in the U.K. to close its entire I.C.U. for 11 days, caused an outbreak at a hospital in Spain, and been reported in India, Pakistan, South Africa, and Asia, where it was first discovered. In the U.S., there have been 587 cases reported: 309 in New York, 104 in New Jersey, and 144 in Illinois. The C.D.C. reports that 50 percent of residents in some Chicago nursing homes have tested positive. C. auris can apparently grow anywhere, including IV lines and ventilators.

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And hospitals wary of getting reputations as fungi-infested death houses often fail to reveal outbreaks for years until they’re under control. In the United States, the C.D.C. isn’t allowed to disclose the names and locations of hospitals dealing with outbreaks, so many states acknowledge that they’ve had them without saying where.

A doctor from the C.D.C. had this encouraging message to share of the fungus that will mostly likely come to rule the Earth:

“It is a creature from the black lagoon,” said Dr. Tom Chiller, who heads the fungal branch at the C.D.C., which is spearheading a global detective effort to find treatments and stop the spread. “It bubbled up and now it is everywhere.”

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