There’s a new germ in town and it’s not as “sweet” as its name might imply. Candida auris, a type of yeast, can cause severe illness, or even death, in hospitalized patients. This yeast, referred to as C. auris, can enter the bloodstream and spread through the body. Unfortunately, it often doesn’t respond to commonly used antifungal drugs, making it hard to treat. Learn what you need to know about C. auris so you can protect yourself.
Why is C. auris so concerning?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is concerned about C. auris for these reasons:
- It is often resistant to multiple antifungal drugs commonly used to treat other Candida infections. Some strains are resistant to all 3 major classes of antifungal drugs.
- It is hard to identify with standard laboratory methods. Therefore, lab staff without the correct technology can misidentify the specimen. Misidentification may lead to inappropriate treatment and management.
- C. auris can persist on surfaces in healthcare environments and spread between patients in healthcare facilities, unlike most other Candida species. There have been outbreaks in healthcare settings, making rapid identification of C. auris in a hospitalized patient particularly important so the hospital can take steps to stop its spread.
How common is this?
As of May 2017, 122 people in the US have been identified with C. auris. Seventy-seven of these cases were identified during routine patient care. Doctors found 45 additional cases when screening people who came in close contact with the 77 patients.
Who is at risk for C. auris?
Patients in the intensive care unit for a long time, those with a central venous catheter placed in a large vein, and/or patients taking antibiotics or antifungal medications, appear to be at highest risk of infection with this yeast. Other risk factors include recent surgery, diabetes, and the use of lines and tubes that go into the body (such as breathing tubes and feeding tubes).
Nearly all of the 77 patients had multiple underlying medical conditions and extensive healthcare exposure.
As stated above, those in contact with infected patients, are also at risk of developing a C. auris infection.
Is age a risk factor?
Of the 77 clinical cases identified, the median age of the patients was 77, although it has been found in patients of all ages, from preterm infants to the elderly.
What are the signs and symptoms of C. auris?
C. auris can be hard to detect because it often happens in patients who are very ill. However, if a patient develops a fever and chills that don’t improve with a normal course of antibiotics, it might be C. auris. If you see this occur with a loved one, notify staff.
How can the spread of C. auris be controlled?
To prevent the spread of germs, proper hand hygiene among medical staff must be practiced. As hard as it is to believe, many doctors and other staff members are not washing their hands regularly. A 2014 study found that less than 1/3 of healthcare workers in an ICU (intensive care unit) always washed their hands. Why aren’t they washing their hands frequently enough? It’s likely a combination of forgetfulness and apathy.
To reduce the risk of transferring the infection among patients, those infected with C. auris should be isolated in single rooms. Additionally, staff should wear gowns and gloves when treating infected patients, and should use medical equipment dedicated to each infected patient. Thorough environmental cleaning of hospital rooms may help as well.
What can you do?
There are a few things that a patient or family caregiver can do to reduce the risk of C. auris:
- Practice good hand hygiene:
- Everyone, including medical staff and patients, should wash their hands frequently. Use alcohol based hand sanitizer or wash with soap for 40-60 seconds.
- If you don’t see a medical provider wash their hands and/or put on clean gloves before patient contact, speak up! This can be awkward, but it is important.
- Bring your own bleach-containing wipes and use them to regularly. Clean all surfaces in a hospital room that you (patient or visitor) may touch. Wipe down door knobs, tray table, bed rails, light switches, faucet handles, etc.
- If a doctor wants you to take antibiotics, ask if you need these medications, or if the doctor is prescribing them as a precaution. Doctors sometimes prescribe antibiotics out of an excess of caution or due to standard protocols that may not apply to you (or your loved one).
Is there any good news?
Fortunately, there are many organizations working on new products to either treat or prevent bacterial infections. Learn more in The Pew Charitable Trusts report.
To reduce your risk of infection, read these blog posts:
- Germs in Hospitals and Doctor Offices – Watch Out!
- Protect Yourself from Hospital Infections.
- Why is Sepsis so Dangerous?
- Is C. Diff Dangerous for Patients?
- Why is Hand Washing in Healthcare So Important? What You Need to Do to Stay Safe.
- Tips for Hospital Discharges.
- What’s Your Hospital’s Safety Record? Is Your Hospital Safe?
- Is Your Hospital Safe? Are Programs in Place to Avoid Dangerous “Never Events”?