A projection of the C. auris fungus
A projection of the C. auris fungus on a microscope slide. Image Credit: NYT

A mysterious and dangerous fungal infection called Candida auris (C. auris) has emerged around the world. It is resistant to many antifungal 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?

C. 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 C. auris cases reported in the US, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, most of them in New York, New Jersey and Illinois.

Why is it so dangerous?

C. auris is often resistant to major antifungal drugs that are typically used to treat such infections. The CDC says that more than 90 per cent of C. 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.

Who is at risk?

People with compromised or weakened immune systems are the most vulnerable. This includes elderly people, and also 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 C. auris and also are likely to be in settings, like hospitals and nursing homes, where the infection is more prevalent.

Why haven’t people heard about this?

The rise of C. auris has been little publicised in part because it is so new. But also, outbreaks have at times been played down or kept confidential by hospitals, doctors, 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 C. auris — fever, aches, 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 C. auris 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 C. auris there. If so, it is reasonable to request that proper “infection control” precautions are taken.