A life-threatening drug-resistant fungal infection is spreading around the country. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are reporting outbreaks of Candida auris in 12 states. New York, New Jersey and Illinois have been especially hard hit.

Doctors detected the first case of C. auris in Japan a decade ago. No one had paid attention to it before because it wasn’t causing trouble. But once this organism evolved resistance to anti-fungal drugs, it started to overwhelm people with impaired immunity.

Rise of the Drug-Resistant Fungal Infection:

Three years ago, physicians discovered seven cases of C. auris in the U.S. Now, the CDC has confirmed that nearly 600 individuals have been infected with Candida auris (CDC Candida auris, March 29, 2019). Many of these patients had weakened immune systems and were hospitalized. In such individuals who can’t mount a strong immune response, the infection is often lethal.

Are Fungicides to Blame?

Researchers suspect that heavy use of agricultural fungicides may have contributed to the development of drug resistance by C. auris and possibly other fungal infections as well. This parallels the evolution of drug-resistant bacteria such as MRSA that evade common antibiotic treatments.

Worldwide, experts estimate that the annual death toll from such superbugs, including both bacteria and fungus, may be as high as 700,000 people. Just as experts urge responsible stewardship of antibiotics to reduce the chances that bacteria will develop resistance, we may also need to look at restraint in the use of anti-fungal compounds.

Because Candida auris has spread so quickly, we are likely to see more outbreaks in the near future. The fungus puts out numerous spores that can be difficult to eradicate from hospital rooms and equipment. Consequently, healthcare organizations will need to pay even more attention to infection control. Both visitors and staff must scrub their hands thoroughly with old-fashioned soap and water. So far as we know, even a drug-resistant fungal infection can not defend itself against conscientious hand washing.

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