More than 30 cases of infection from a deadly fungal superbug have now been confirmed in the United States, with 28 of the 35 reported cases occurring in hospitals located in New York State.
Last year, health officials warned that cases of the highly drug-resistant fungus, Candida auris, might soon appear in the United States. Now that the superbug has arrived, the major concern is how to keep it from spreading, since in some cases there may be no method for treating it.
Some strains of Candida auris are resistant to all the antifungal drugs available and an infection by the superbug is indeed a life-threatening proposition.
From The Washington Post:
“Unlike garden variety yeast infections, this one causes serious bloodstream infections, spreads easily from person to person in healthcare settings, and survives for months on skin and for weeks on bed rails, chairs and other hospital equipment. Some strains are resistant to all three major classes of antifungal drugs. Based on information from a limited number of patients, up to 60 percent of people with these infections have died.”
It’s not easy to determine just how deadly the effects of the superbug are, since most of the infections have occurred among patients who already had serious illnesses.
Candida auris infections were first seen in 2009, and since then cases have been reported in one dozen countries. On at least two occasions, individual hospital outbreaks have involved more than 30 patients.
So far, none of the C. auris infections in the United States have proven to be drug-resistant, which gives health officials hope that the spread of the fungus can be contained.
But there are difficulties involved in simply diagnosing cases of C. auris infection – the fungus is not easy to identify using standard laboratory methods and can be misdiagnosed as another type of fungal infection, leading to the wrong type of treatment.
Candida infections are common in U.S. hospitals, but unlike the “garden-variety” strains, C. auris poses a much greater health threat:
“Unlike Candida infections in the mouth, throat, or vagina (which are typically called yeast infections), invasive yeast infections can affect the blood, heart, brain, eyes, bones and other parts of the body and are more dangerous.
“Among infectious disease clinicians and laboratory personnel, infections involving fungi don’t typically ring the same kind of alarm bells as antibiotic-resistant bacteria — until now.”
Researchers are investigating the possibility that a new investigational drug called SCY-078 might be useful in fighting C. auris infections. According to a recent study providing new details regarding the superbug’s drug resistance and growth patterns, there is evidence that SCY-078 could cure C. auris infections, since it has been successfully used in the past to treat other drug-resistant Candida strains.
The fungus is just one of many emerging drug-resistant superbugs that are of great concern among international health officials. In February, the World Health Organization (WHO) released a list of 12 antibiotic-resistant pathogens posing the greatest threat to human health.
The list includes drug-resistant strains of rare infectious diseases, but also bacteria associated with more common diseases such as gonorrhea and salmonella food poisoning.
The big problem is that no new classes of antibiotics have been introduced since 1984, and there are few in development that even have the potential to treat the pathogens listed by the WHO.
There is a very good chance that a new superbug might emerge that could spread very rapidly through a large percentage of the population, killing millions of people in a short time – and with virtually no means of stopping it.
The scary truth is that we are nearly powerless to stop such a scenario from taking place. As one health expert put it, “the outlook is grim.”