Candida auris fungal infection is spreading across the U.S.: What Canadians should know

Candida auris is a growing concern worldwide, but Health Canada says the risk to Canadians is considered "very low."

fungal FILE - This undated photo made available by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows a strain of Candida auris cultured in a petri dish at a CDC laboratory. The U.S. toll of drug-resistant “superbug” infections worsened during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, health officials said Tuesday, July 12, 2022. After years of decline, the nation in 2020 saw a 15% increase in hospital infections and deaths attributed to some of the most worrisome bacterial infections out there, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report. (Shawn Lockhart/Centers for Disease Control and Prevention via AP, File)
The candida auris fungal infection has been spreading at an "alarming rate" across the U.S. (Shawn Lockhart/Centers for Disease Control and Prevention via AP, File)

This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Contact a qualified medical professional before engaging in any physical activity, or making any changes to your diet, medication or lifestyle.

A deadly fungal infection has been spreading at an “alarming rate” across the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently announced that candida auris, a drug-resistant fungus, is now considered an urgent public health threat.

C. auris was first reported in long term care facilities and nursing homes in the United States in 2016, but was initially discovered in Japan in 2009. While public health officials believed they could contain its spread, cases of the fungal infection have increased 95 per cent from 2020 to 2021, and are still on the rise.

Across the U.S. in 2022, there were approximately 2,377 active cases of candida auris infections reported, and 5,754 cases of the fungus detected in patients bodies without active signs of infection yet.

Despite the rapid spread in the United States, the Ministry of Health told Yahoo Canada, “candida auris is not on Ontario’s list of reportable diseases” and declined an interview at this time.

Health Canada acknowledges that c. auris is a growing global health concern and reports that “the Public Health Agency of Canada via the Centre for Communicable Diseases and Infection Control, along with the National Microbiology Laboratory are actively conducting surveillance to monitor the situation in Canada."

According to their data, since 2012, there have been 43 cases of c.auris in Canada — including both active infections and "colonization" — signs of infection in the body.

“Some of the cases were associated with travel and did not originate here,” they stressed.

Thirty five of the 43 cases were reported in the last five years. Twenty-one cases originated in the Western region of Canada, two in the Central West,19 in the Central East and one case was reported in the Atlantic region. One third of all cases in Canada proved to be “multidrug resistant."

What is candida auris?

C. auris is a yeast, or family of fungus, that contains species that can actually be helpful to humans in some cases, like for baking bread or brewing beer. Candida yeasts most often live on our skin without cause for concern, but can seriously infect someone with a compromised immune system.

Public Health Ontario classifies candida auris as a fungal pathogen that is often resistant to antifungal drugs. It’s highly transmissible and can infect any part of the body — specifically the blood or an open wound.

According to Health Canada it’s estimated to kill about 40 percent of people who become infected. And, the CDC warns that even when patients survive the infection, they still show traces of the fungus for years afterwards- increasing the risk of unknowingly spreading it to others.

How does candida auris spread?

While the fungal infection poses no threat to healthy people, the CDC warns that it’s a growing concern for patients who are hospitalized for long periods of time, have medical implants, or have previously received antibiotics or antifungal medications.

C. auris most often spreads in healthcare settings, and persistent outbreaks in hospitals have been documented. The Ministry of Health notes that the fungal infection is contracted most commonly through contact with affected patients and contaminated surfaces or equipment.

Because “it can live on surfaces for several weeks, practicing good hand hygiene and cleaning in healthcare facilities is key.”

The CDC recommends that patients and family members clean their hands thoroughly before and after touching each other or the area around a patient's room. Disposable gloves should also be worn when changing dressing wounds or helping a patient bathe.

Are Canadians at risk of candida auris?

“Similar to the experience of other countries, it is possible that c. auris will become more common here, including the potential for outbreaks in healthcare and long-term care facilities,” a representative for Health Canada told Yahoo Canada.

The World Health Organization ranked candida auris as one of the worst "health-threatening fungi," with recent research showing that 1.5 million people die from fungal infections each year.

Despite the alarmingly high numbers being reported worldwide, Health Canada notes that, “the risk to the general population in Canada at this time is considered very low,” and stresses that globally, outbreaks of c. auris have been limited to healthcare settings, as opposed to communities.

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