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By Ben Kesslen and Felix Gussone, MD
Illinois health officials announced Monday that since 2016 they have seen 154 cases of a fast moving, often life-threatening fungus, adding concern about the fungus’ spread.
Monday’s number makes Illinois the state with the second-highest occurrence of Candida auris, an emerging multidrug-resistant yeast that can cause infection and, in some cases, death. New York has had 309 reported cases of the fungus, and New Jersey 104.
Dr. Tom Chiller, chief of mycotic diseases branch at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told NBC News that Candida auris is “causing invasive infections globally.”
“It acquires resistance fast, and then it remains resistant. It has the ability to develop pan resistance,” Chiller explained.
While yeasts normally reside in warm, damp spaces, Candida auris can survive on cool, external skin and cold surfaces, allowing it to spread more rapidly than other forms of Candida from patient to patient.
“It’s not acting like a typical candida. This candida is acting much more like a bacteria,” Chiller said. “We’re not used to yeast acting that way.”
In a press conference about the fungus Tuesday, Dr. Janice Verley, infectious disease specialist at Nassau University Medical Center, said its being multidrug-resistant is concerning.
“In essence, it limits our treatment options,” she said.
Verley did add that many patients have been shown to be sensitive to a variety of anti-fungal drugs, so it’s important that the fungus is quickly and accurately identified _ although that isn’t always easy.
“It’s been challenging to identify, but we’re getting better at doing that,” Chiller of the CDC said.
Verley said literature suggest the fungus has a “high mortality rate between 20 and 50 percent.”
Patients with a delayed diagnosis of Candida auris had a 30-day mortality rate of 35.2 percent, according to one study published article on the National Center for Biotechnology Information site of the National Institutes of Health.
Patients already at risk of infection are most vulnerable to the fungus’ grip.
“To me right now the threatening part is in the sickest of the sick. Those patients who have medically invasive procedures, who are hospitalized. Those are the real at-risk patients,” Chiller said.
Another thing that worries health experts: Candida auris is difficult to get rid of once it’s in a hospital or clinic, which means health care facilities may need to user a higher level of disinfectant.
Chiller said he isn’t concerned for the general public, but that “it’s important for all of our hospitals to remain vigilant.”
In Illinois, the director of the state Department of Public Health told the Chicago Tribune that his department is testing people in health care facilities where people have the fungus and is working to ensure proper infection control practices. He urged Illinois residents to “get educated and stay safe.”