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Deadly Candida auris Fungus in Nursing Homes

Candida auris is a fungus that resists common antibiotics and can cause deadly infections, particularly in vulnerable populations like the elderly. Basic precautionary measures, however, can help to prevent nursing home infections.

What Is Candida auris?

Candida auris (C. auris), often called a “super fungus,” is a dangerous yeast infection that resists many common antibiotics. This resistance makes it both easier to spread and harder to fight and eliminate from a patient.

Apart from its drug resistance, C. auris concerns scientists because it is difficult to identify with standard laboratory tests. Misidentification can lead to relaxed safeguards and promote the spread of the fungus.

C. auris most commonly infects people who are already sick and hospitalized, with older populations in long-term care facilities at particular risk. This is especially true when medical equipment is not sanitized or when medical staff treats patients without precautions like gloves.

Fever and chills are the first warning signs that an infection is present. If an infection doesn’t respond to antibiotics, doctors may suspect the presence of the C. auris fungus.

What to Know About the Latest C. auris Outbreak

C. auris is a global phenomenon and part of a growing class of fungi that resist traditional antibiotics. Researchers partially blame the overprescription of antibiotics, as well as an increase in farms using antibiotics in animals like chickens.

The super fungus is suspected to have arrived in the U.S. four years ago. Shockingly, about half of the 800 patients infected with C. auris died within 90 days.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have identified cases in:

  • California
  • Connecticut
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Illinois
  • Massachusetts
  • New York
  • North Carolina
  • Oklahoma
  • Texas

The states with the highest number of reported cases are New York and Illinois.

Candida auris Nursing Home Infections

Nursing home infections are common for several reasons. The weaker immune systems of elderly people make it easier for fungal infections to thrive. Elders are also prone to sores and skin infections, which are easy entry points into the bloodstream.

Medical care in nursing homes typically includes a high number of intrusive devices like catheters, cannulas, and feeding tubes. Improper sanitation when inserting these devices increases the risk of contracting C. auris.

Symptoms of Candida auris Infections

Most people infected by C. auris are already sick from something else, so the fungal infection can be tough to spot at first.

The most common symptoms of C. auris are fever and chills — the same side effects as many other infections. However, doctors should suspect the super fungus if symptoms are not cured by common antibiotics.

Why is Candida auris Hard to Diagnose?

Narrowing down C. auris as the culprit of an illness can cost precious time. The fungus can live for weeks on surfaces, equipment, and on a person’s skin without causing sickness.

Many nursing home patients are already living with a separate illness, so C. auris symptoms like fever and chills are commonly misdiagnosed and attributed to the patient’s known condition. Any treatment is likely to target this unrelated sickness first, leaving more time for the fungus to develop and infect others.

The fungus is also difficult to identify using ordinary lab tests.

Complications of Treating Candida auris

C. auris carries multiple characteristics that make it particularly dangerous in the world of nursing home infections.

Particularly dangerous traits of C. auris are:

  • The fungus has been shown to survive industrial-strength cleaning on hospital room surfaces and equipment.
  • Its versatility means it can cause infections from multiple sources, including ear infections, bloodstream infections, and wound infections.
  • Only a handful of antibiotics have proven effective in countering C. auris.

U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer recently called for the CDC to declare C. auris a public health emergency. In a news conference, Schumer said the public health agency should treat the C. auris outbreak with the same degree of urgency as the 2014 Ebola outbreak.

“It [C. auris] can be everywhere; it can be on anything. Hospitals may have to rip out their ceilings and walls to have it removed,” the Senator said.

How to Protect Nursing Home Residents from C. auris

Nursing home infections can be reduced by following basic sanitation protocols — like hand-washing — as a routine precaution.

In addition, new patients should be screened for infections like C. auris, and extra prophylactic measures should be taken at the first sign of a positive test.

Other protective measures include: 

  • Hand washing
  • Masks, gloves, and eye protection
  • Frequent disinfecting of surfaces and equipment
  • Isolating infected patients to avoid spreading the fungus
  • Notifying transfer facilities that a new patient has C. auris

While C. auris is a serious, often deadly fungus, basic precautionary measures can help reduce or prevent this nursing home infection.

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The Nursing Home Abuse Center Team

The Nursing Home Abuse Center (NHAC) was founded to bring justice to those affected by nursing home and elder abuse. Our mission is to educate and empower victims of abuse and their families to take a stand against this unlawful mistreatment. We work to return dignity back to those who have been broken down by nursing home abuse and neglect.

Last modified: November 21, 2019

View Sources

Shmerling, R. H. (2019, May 24). The latest deadly superbug – and why it’s not time to panic. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/candida-auris-the-latest-deadly-superbug-and-why-its-not-time-to-panic-2019050816606.