Feb 6, 2024 - Health

What to know about Seattle's potentially deadly fungus outbreak

A closeup of fungus particles as viewed under a microscope.

Candida auris is a yeast that is resistant to most antifungal drugs. Photo: BSIP/Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

An outbreak of a fungus that can turn deadly, Candida auris, was confirmed at a hospital in Seattle late last month, in the latest example of the drug-resistant fungus spreading nationwide.

Why it matters: Many people with C. auris won't show symptoms, but about 5–10% develop invasive infections — and about 45% of those patients die within 30 days, local public health officials say.

Here are some important things to know about C. auris, which the CDC last year said has "spread at an alarming rate" — from fewer than 500 clinical cases nationwide in 2019 to nearly 2,400 in 2022.

Details: Candida auris is a type of yeast that spreads easily in health care facilities, per the CDC.

  • "It is often resistant to antifungal treatments, which means that the medications that are designed to kill the fungus and stop infections do not work," the CDC says.
  • The fungus can cause ear infections, wound infections, urinary tract infections and blood infections that spread to the rest of the body, per the Cleveland Clinic.
  • Symptoms can include fever, chills, extreme tiredness, low blood pressure, ear pain, low body temperature and high heart rate.

The fungus can spread through contact with contaminated surfaces, clothing or shared medical equipment (such as blood pressure cuffs), as well as contact with an infected person.

  • People can get the fungus on their skin without getting sick or showing symptoms, then unknowingly spread it, the CDC says.
  • It can survive on surfaces for several weeks.

Of note: Typically, healthy people don't get serious infections from Candida auris, even if they're carrying it, health officials say.

  • "The risk is mainly for patients that have long stays at hospitals and need medical interventions like breathing tubes, feeding tubes or urinary catheters," Claire Brostrom-Smith, manager of the health care-associated infections program at Public Health-Seattle & King County, said in a written statement.

What they found: Last month, Public Health-Seattle & King County confirmed four cases linked to Kindred, a private long-term acute care hospital in Seattle's First Hill neighborhood. No deaths were reported.

  • It was the first known outbreak in Washington state, although a single case tied to Kindred was identified last summer.
  • Cases have now been reported in more than half of U.S. states, with California, Nevada, New York and Florida reporting the most in the most recent year of CDC data available.

What's next: Kindred already screens people for the fungus as soon as they're admitted, which is how the first of the January cases was detected, King County public health officials said.

  • County officials are working with Kindred to keep patients who test positive for Candida auris away from others, in hopes of stopping the spread.
  • King County is recommending that health care facilities consider screening patients who might be at high risk of exposure, including those who have stayed near a person with C. auris.
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