The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced in late March 2023 that deadly fungus Candida auris (C. auris) infections continue to rise at alarming rates in nursing homes and health care facilities across the nation.
C. auris is a global health problem and part of a growing class of fungi that resist traditional antibiotics. Since 2016, the drug-resistant fungus has infected more than 3,200 people. The most alarming spike in cases occurred between 2019 and 2021.
In 2019, under 500 C. auris cases were reported, but in 2021, nearly 1,500 infections were reported nationwide.
The CDC believes healthy people may not be at risk of serious infections. However, the most at risk are people in nursing homes who receive treatment or care through breathing or feeding tubes and catheters.
Nursing homes are already facing tremendous stressors after the COVID-19 pandemic, including understaffing. With fewer staff members to help patients, nursing home neglect rates are rising, causing already-vulnerable residents to face severe infections and even death.
What Is 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 treat once a patient is infected.
Besides its drug resistance, C. auris is a concern for scientists because it is difficult to identify with standard laboratory tests. Failure to detect the deadly fungus can lead to relaxed safeguards, promoting its spread.
Severe infections typically occur when open wounds come in contact with the fungus. However, the CDC has detected the deadly fungus in the respiratory system and in patient urine samples. Researchers are still trying to understand if it will cause lung or bladder infections.
C. auris most commonly infects people who are already sick and hospitalized, with older populations in long-term care facilities at especially high risk. Spreading can rise when medical equipment is not sanitized, or medical staff treat patients without proper precautions like gloves.
Risk of Deadly Fungal Infections in Nursing Homes
Sadly, nursing home infections are common for several reasons. Not only do weaker immune systems of nursing home residents make it easier for fungal infections to thrive, but also inadequate staffing may keep residents from receiving the care they need to keep the infections at bay.
Residents also are prone to bedsores and skin infections if they are not moved or bathed regularly. These conditions can provide easy entry points for the deadly fungus into the bloodstream.
The CDC reports that 30-60% of patients infected with C. auris die because of how immunocompromised patients in nursing homes are.
Additionally, medical care in nursing homes commonly involves intrusive devices like catheters, cannulas, and feeding tubes. Improper sanitation when inserting these devices increases the risk of contracting C. auris.
Symptoms of the Deadly Fungal 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 standard antibiotics do not cure symptoms.
Complications of Diagnosing and Treating Candida auris
Not much is known about C. auris, making diagnosis and treatment difficult.
The deadly fungus can multiply on surfaces and skin without causing serious issues. However, it can spread quickly and dangerously once it enters the bloodstream since symptoms often go undetected.
Basic lab tests may mistake the fungus for others in the Candida family, leading doctors to prescribe antibiotics that are not strong enough to fight the fungus.
Particularly dangerous traits of C. auris include:
- 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 the ears, bloodstream, and wound infections.
- Only a handful of antibiotics have proven effective in countering C. auris.
Researchers are working to gain a better understanding of the unique fungus.
“The rapid rise and geographic spread of cases is concerning and emphasizes the need for continued surveillance, expanded lab capacity, quicker diagnostic tests, and adherence to proven infection prevention and control.”
— Dr. Meghan Lyman, CDC Epidemiologist
How to Protect Nursing Home Residents from C. auris
While C. auris is a serious, often deadly fungus, basic precautionary measures can help reduce or prevent this nursing home infection. This includes following recommended sanitation protocols, like hand-washing.
In addition, the CDC recommends new patients should be screened for infections like C. auris, and extra preventative measures should be taken at the first sign of a positive test.
Other protective measures include:
- Frequent disinfecting of surfaces and equipment
- Isolating infected patients to avoid spreading the fungus
- Notifying transfer facilities that a new patient has C. auris
- Use of masks, gloves, and eye protection
You can help protect your loved ones in nursing homes by checking on them frequently. This allows you to be mindful of the warning signs of abuse and neglect, which can cause a C. auris infection to spread out of control.
Finally, if someone you love died from a fungal infection in a nursing home, you may be able to file a lawsuit for nursing home neglect. Contact our team today at (855) 264-6310 for help holding those responsible accountable.