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Montana doctor eyeing spread of potentially deadly Candida Auris fungus

Candida Auris.PNG
Posted at 9:49 PM, Mar 21, 2023

BILLINGS — Many medical experts are calling it a superbug, and so far it’s earned that nickname.

Unlike Covid-19, this isn’t a virus. It’s a fungus called Candida Auris, and as it makes its way across the U.S., it has killed people, but it’s far less contagious than coronavirus and seems to be confined to specific settings.

"It can be very difficult to treat because strains have been found to be resistant to multiple anti-fungal agents. It (can) also be difficult to eradicate in an environmental setting if the hospital is not using the appropriate disinfectants," said Dr. Neil Ku, an epidemiologist at Billings Clinic, on Tuesday.

Candida Auris is a type of fungal infection that was discovered in Japan in 2009 and has since spread to over 30 countries. It was detected in the U.S. in 2016.

Ku said hospitals are almost exclusively at the beginning of the line when it comes to a potential infection.

"We can identify that many of the hospitals that get these cases, they get them from patients who have been in other hospitals who have had that infection. So, it kind of goes from healthcare setting to another healthcare setting," added Ku.

Ku says it’s most often spread to patients through IVs that may have been placed on contaminated countertops. Many of these hospitals don’t have the technology to test for the infection, but Billings Clinic does.

"Identification of this pathogen is going to be the most important, and that’s also going to be our greatest barrier," Ku added.

From January 2022 to December 2022, there were almost 2,400 clinical cases and almost 7,800 screening cases in the U.S.

Candida Auris map.PNG

The fungus has a high risk of serious infection, and Ku says this is most commonly found in patients with previous health concerns.

"This is usually almost an infection of opportunity where it occurs as a result of their condition, not usually in somebody that’s already a healthy host. The most common presentation is bloodstream infections, most commonly associated with devices, intravenous devices," Ku said.

And despite the timing lining up perfectly with one of the most popular shows in the world, we’re safe from that outcome and a repeat of 2020, according to Dr. Ku.

"It’s not airborne so we have that, and it’s not going to spread by spores like 'The Last of Us,'" Ku added.

But while Montana has yet to see its first case, Ku says it’s only a matter of time.

"We’re aware, and we are ready. it’s just now, it’s really a waiting game to see when we’re going to get our first case of Candida Auris," added Ku.