Washington faces a deadly fungal disease

Four people have tested positive for a rare fungal infection this month alone in Washington state. The fungal infection is a potentially deadly infection named Candida auris.

The infection continues to spread in the US. Furthermore, cases have risen every year since 2016. Unfortunately, the pathogen is resistant to some common antifungal medications, and it especially attacks individuals with already compromised immune systems. The infection is usually detected in hospital patients who have catheters, breathing tubes, or feeding tubes.

All four individuals who tested positive were patients at Kindred Hospital Seattle First Hill. The hospital is a long-term acute care hospital. Luckily it has been reported that none of the individuals have died. The Health Department for Seattle and King County announced on Tuesday that it had been notified of the first case on Jan. 10. The patient who first received this diagnosis had tested positive through a routine screening program.

The three other cases were identified on Jan. 22 and Jan. 23. All three had tested negative for Candida auris when they initially arrived at the hospital which suggests that they all contracted the fungus during their stay at the hospital.

Candida auris was first identified in 2009 in Japan. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention requested in 2016 that all US laboratories report it, and it was revealed that there have been cases of the fungal disease since 2013. As of Dec. 2022, the fungus has been reported in 36 states in which there have been over 5,600 infections from 2014 to 2022. 13,000 others identified through screenings didn’t have signs of infection.

According to the CDC, Candida auris’ rise is attributed to increased screenings and poor infection control and prevention practices in health facilities. Infection control and prevention have become more challenging due to the shortage of staff and an increased amount of patients that resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It will reach into every corner of the country for sure. The question is going to be how well we can control it?” says Dr. Peter Pappas, professor of medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Although strains of Candida auris can be treated with drugs from one of the three main classes of antifungal medicines, some are resistant to all three. This presents problems for health professionals and patients across the US.

“By the time it [Candida auris] shows up in a hospital you know it’s been in the community for quite some time,” continued Dr. Pappas. “It’s just unclear how long that would be.”

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