What you need to know about super fungus Candida auris

Kinta Alexander of Mount Sinai Hospital in Brooklyn, during a demonstration of the deep-cleaning techniques the hospital used to contain Candida auris. PHOTO: NYTIMES

NEW YORK (NYTIMES) - A mysterious and dangerous fungal infection called Candida auris has emerged around the world. It is resistant to many anti-fungal medications, placing it among a growing number of germs that have evolved defences against common medicines.

Here are some basic facts about it.

What is Candida auris?

Candida auris is a fungus that, when it gets into the bloodstream, can cause dangerous infections that can be life-threatening. Scientists first identified it in 2009 in a patient in Japan.

In recent years, it has emerged around the world, largely in hospitals and nursing homes. There have been 587 cases reported in the United States, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, most of them in New York, New Jersey and Illinois.

Why is it so dangerous?

Candida auris is often resistant to major anti-fungal drugs that are typically used to treat such infections. The CDC says that more than 90 per cent of Candida auris infections are resistant to at least one such drug, while 30 per cent are resistant to two or more major drugs. Once the germ is present, it is hard to eradicate from a facility. Some hospitals have had to bring in special cleaning equipment and even rip out floor and ceiling tiles to get rid of it.

Who is at risk?

People with compromised or weakened immune systems are the most vulnerable. This includes elderly people and people who are already sick; in at least one case, newborns were infected at a neonatal unit.

People with weakened immunity are likely to have more trouble fighting off an initial invasion by Candida auris and are also likely to be in settings such as hospitals and nursing homes, where the infection is more prevalent.

Why have people not heard about this?

The rise of Candida auris has been little publicised in part because it is so new. Outbreaks have also, at times, been played down or kept confidential by hospitals, doctors and even governments.

Some hospitals and medical professionals argue that because precautions are taken to prevent the spread, publicising an outbreak would scare people unnecessarily.

Can I do anything to protect myself?

The symptoms of Candida auris - fever, aches and fatigue - are not unusual, so it is hard to recognise the infection without testing. The good news is that the threat of becoming sick with it is very low for healthy people going about their daily lives.

If you or a loved one is in a hospital or nursing home, you can ask if there have been cases of Candida auris there. If so, it is reasonable to request that proper "infection control" precautions are taken.

In the US, this question would be most relevant in New York, New Jersey and Illinois, specifically Chicago, where the germ has been concentrated.

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