A multidrug resistant superbug has recently infected 141 people in New Jersey, according to an article from New Jersey 101.5.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said the illness is a fungus called Candida auris and presents a serious global threat.
While news of the infection started with a single case in Japan, it has now been reported in more than 30 countries, said Dr. Neeraj Chauhan, associate professor of microbiology with the Public Health Research Institute at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School.
“Candida auris is a very recent fungus which was identified for the first time in 2009 in Japan,” Chauhan said. “In just 10 years, it’s spread all over the world. The threat is that multidrug resistant is spreading so fast.”
He said that the fungus sticks to surfaces like skin and spreads through contact with contaminated surfaces. Healthy patients are not affected by Candida auris infections, but they can transfer the infection to others.
“Let’s say I get colonized with Candida auris. I’m probably okay and I probably will not develop disease but potentially I can transfer it to other people. That’s the concern,” Chauhan said. “If one person is healthy, that’s okay, but that person may come into contact with someone who is not healthy, so it’s a chain reaction.”
Patients with poor immune systems, such as the elderly, intensive care unit patients or patients who have already undergone antibacterial therapies are most at risk, Chauhan said. The mortality rate for fungal infections ranges from 30% to 60%.
“That’s very high,” he said. “But we don’t know if the person dies from Candida auris or from some other underlying cause.”
2.8 million antibiotic resistant infections occur each year and 35,000 people die annually due to these infections, according to the CDC.
In a 2019 report, the CDC classified Candida auris as an urgent threat and said that some infections are resistant to all main types of antifungal drugs.
The CDC advised healthcare facilities across the country to look out for evidence of the superbug in patients. Fungal infections like Candida auris can be hard to identify because they require special laboratory procedures, Chauhan said.
“The good old traditional methods of identification of other Candida species lead to misidentification of Candida auris as something else. That was a challenge, but now we know that. There are other tests that work very well, but some are expensive and time consuming,” Chauhan said. “If a small facility suspects a patient has a Candida auris infection they can take a sample, send it to the CDC and they perform the diagnostic test for free.”
Chauhan said the best way to combat Candida auris is infection control.
“Hospitals should be paranoid. If one patient in one room may have Candida auris infection they should be very aggressive about practicing infection control like promoting hand hygiene. Otherwise it spreads everywhere,” he said.
Chauhan also said that people with Candida auris infections do not need to avoid all human contact, they just have to be careful.
“Let’s say it’s a nursing home and an old patient has a Candida auris infection. That doesn’t mean they can’t go to common places or have dinner with other people,” he said. “They can definitely do that, but they have to follow certain procedures. Hand hygiene, not coughing too much, those kind of things.”
The keys to dealing with fungal infections on a public health scale are better diagnostic tests, better drugs and public awareness, Chauhan said.
“Public awareness is very, very important. Fungal diseases don’t cross anyone’s mind. You always think of bacterial infections, viral infections or parasites,” he said. “We also need more research. Antifungal research has lagged behind compared to antibacterial and antiviral research, which is why we have few drugs at our disposal.”
As of Sept. 30, the New Jersey Department of Health recorded 141 confirmed cases of Candida auris statewide and 22 probable cases.
“Candida auris is a big problem, it’s a concern," Chauhan said. “There’s no need to panic about it because most healthy people will not get the disease, but it is very important to be aware of it and to know how it spreads.”