As the global health community continues to see a growing number of measles outbreaks worldwide, yet another global health concern has popped up rather suddenly in the United States — the threat of a superbug fungus.
An outbreak of the fungus Candida auris, or C. auris, was recently reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the US.
Here’s what you need to know about it.
What is Candida auris?
C. auris is a strain of fungus that can cause different kinds of infections like wound infections, ear infections and — in severe cases — blood infections. Doctors first discovered it in 2009 in Tokyo, but it has since been reported in more than 30 countries around the world, including the US, where it is currently spreading.
What is a superbug?
A superbug is a strain of bacteria that has become resistant to antibiotics. C. auris is not always resistant to antibiotics, but it often is, which is what makes containing it so pressing.
Some C. auris infections can be treated with antifungal drugs called echinocandins, while others have become resistant, which means that antifungal medication often used to treat its infections often do not work — this is what makes it a superbug.
In these cases, many high doses of different antifungals may be needed.
Every year, about 2 million people develop an antibiotic-resistant infection in the US alone, which accounts for more than 20,000 deaths, according to the CDC.
Why are the symptoms of Candida auris?
People with existing medical conditions or low immune systems are particularly at risk of contracting C. auris, which can make it difficult to spot signs and symptoms. They also vary depending on the affected body part. For blood infections, symptoms commonly include fever and chills, according to the Virginia Department of Health.
How many people has Candida auris infected in the US?
The CDC reported that the drug-resistant superbug has been reported in 12 states in the US and they have counted at least 587 cases, with the majority found in New York, New Jersey, and Illinois. There are also cases in California, Connecticut, Florida, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Texas, and Virginia.
Why does it pose a global health threat?
The CDC reported that C. auris “presents a serious global health threat” for a number of reasons.
C. auris is difficult to diagnose and it can be misdiagnosed without unique lab technology, which means that its treatment is not always properly managed. Furthermore, its drug resistance makes treating it even more difficult.
Because C. auris commonly affects people with weakened immune systems, it has been known to cause outbreaks in health care settings, which is what makes its early detection so important, so as to prevent it from spreading.
Drug-resistant infections are part of a larger global health issue, as antibiotics become less effective everywhere from North America to sub-Saharan Africa. A holistic approach to health care that tackles barriers to education, and improves access to clean water and sanitation, and more could help reduce a number of global health problems such as antimicrobial resistance.