A worrying superbug fungus has been seen in Louisiana for the first time. On Tuesday, hospital officials reported that at least two patients at University Medical Center in New Orleans had been contracted Candida auris, a deadly yeast that is often resistant to fungicides that can spread rapidly in hospitals. The cases follow the first Oregon outbreak C. auris reported just one month earlier.
Nirav Patel, Chief Physician at University Medical Center, told New Orleans Times-Picayune that the hospital publicly reported the cases "of an abundance of caution." Referring to privacy, the hospital has revealed little else about the cases, including the current condition of the two patients, when the infections are thought to have begun, and whether either had a recent travel history, which may be a risk factor for the transmission of drug-resistant infections. Patel added that it is likely C. auris have existed in the state longer than these cases suggest.
The fungus is considered one especially dangerous emerging pathogen of health authorities around the world, especially because it tends to resist many common fungicides. Although people can get infected C. auris and develop few or no symptoms, it can cause severe bloodstream and wound infections that kill up to a third of hospitalized or otherwise ill patients, who often have a weaker immune system. Once it has gained a foothold in a hospital or other health setting, it can spread rapidly through direct contact between people as well as through contaminated surfaces and medical equipment. It is also not easy to spot as standard tests can misidentify it.
Documented cases of C. auris has been relatively rare since its discovery in 2009. But there are signs that it is expanding its range, with cases reported in more than 20 states and some 30 countries. At the end of 2020, Brazil confronted its first reported outbreak, an outbreak that may have been driven by the overwhelming wave of hospitalizations caused by covid-19. Oregon reported its first cases in December 2021, although these could be treated with standard antifungal agents. Unfortunately, so does the United States reported its first ever locally transmitted case of C. auris resistant to all available drug classes last year.
Drug-resistant infections are becoming increasingly common, largely due to our poor handling of these precious drugs and our delayed development of substitutes. But C. auris can be even more of a self-inflicted wound than other superbugs. There are some proof that the rising temperatures caused by climate change in recent decades may have led to it emerging as a harmful infection in the first place.