With the popularity of the HBO series “The Last of Us,” news stories about a potentially deadly fungus infection surging in the US can be a bit chilling. The fact is that an infection like this is never going to be a problem for most of us, but for hospitals and long-term care facilities there is cause for concern and more importantly, for vigilance.
The infectious organism at the heart of a recent alert is a fungus named Candida auris. This is a distant relative of the yeast Candida albicans which causes thrush and other common yeast infections. Although to date we have not seen it cause those problems, it has unique aspects that make it an issue for healthcare institutions:
- It can be tricky to diagnose.
- It can spread readily from patient to patient.
- It is frequently not controlled by common fungal medications.
- It can be hard to remove from the environment.
- It may cause more serious infections and can even be deadly.
So do most of us have anything to be concerned about? Generally, no!
- Most patients who acquire Candida auris are already very sick.
- They frequently have spent a lot of time in hospitals and nursing homes.
- They frequently have compromised immune systems.
- They frequently have devises, such as tubes and IVs, attached to them.
- They frequently have received many antibiotics in past.
And fortunately, although Candida auris has been found in 27 states and several countries to date, the Pacific Northwest, including Washington, has not yet had a case. But that does not mean we won’t see it here someday.
So, what is Valley Medical Center doing about Candida auris?
- We have the majority of the yeast organisms we find in infections identified by a laboratory competent to do it properly so we will know if a patient has Candida auris.
- We have policies for containing Candida auris so it does not spread, including how to clean rooms to remove it.
- We have infectious disease doctors and pharmacists who keep up on the best approaches to treat this infection.
- We are a part of the University of Washington hospital system and a robust public health system in Puget Sound that will warn us if any cases of this are found or may have been sent to our hospital.
While these stories can be unsettling, at Valley Medical Center we feel we are prepared to handle Candida auris if we see it—although we hope we never will.
Mike Hori, MD, is the Medical Director for Valley’s Infectious Disease Clinic