A JAPANESE super fungus which is sweeping the globe has infected more than 260 people in the UK.
The killer infection, called Candida auris, is resistant to drugs – leaving doctors with few treatment options.
Getty – Contributor A killer fungal infection – Candida auris – is sweeping the globe
It thrives on the skin where it can live for a long period of time and also sticks to and survives well on surfaces.
The germ tends to infect people with weakened or compromised immune systems, so when it’s shed in the likes of hospitals or care homes it can prove fatal.
Worryingly some – generally healthy people – can be carriers of the germ without realising as they have no symptoms and don’t become unwell.
Earlier this year Public Health England issued a warning to hospitals advising them to be aware of this new strain.What is Candida auris?
C. auris was first identified in Japan in 2009 and since then cases have been reported in a number of countries around the world, according to The Conversation.
It is part of a family of fungi, or yeasts, that live on the skin and inside the human body – but is very rare.
Experts believe cases are underestimated because it’s hard to identify.
Eight British patients have died after becoming infected by C.auris, with a total of 266 cases in 25 hospitals across the UK.
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The United States has seen a wider spread with 617 cases detected, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.
Stephanie Spoor, from Chicago, Illinois, died from the fungal infection after it reportedly entered her bloodstream through a catheter.
What are the symptoms?
The presence of the fungus on the body, called colonisation, doesn’t necessarily cause illness.
But invasive candidiasis – that is, invasive infection with Candida species – can infect the bloodstream (candidemia), central nervous system and internal organs.
When the infection spreads to the bloodstream, it can manifest as sepsis, with symptoms including fever, rapid breathing, muscle pain, and confusion.
Sepsis is a life-threatening condition and claims 40,000 lives in the UK every year.
Just like serious bacterial infections, C. auris may form abscesses in different parts of the body and may require surgery.
Other potential symptoms include pus at a wound, or increases in temperature and feeling generally unwell if a drip line or urinary catheter is infected, PHE warns.
It can be difficult to diagnose fungal infections and accurately identify the species that has caused the infection.
C. auris is very similar to other common fungi of the Candida genus and can be misidentified.
Patients are usually tested for the fungus by a healthcare professional who will take swabs from different parts of the body.
Reuters A strain of Candida auris cultured in a petri dish at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
How does it spread?
According to PHE, what makes C.auris unique is that it spreads so easily from person to person.
If people have Candida auris on their hands, they can transfer it to other people and objects that they touch. This allows other people to then pick it up on their hands.
C. auris seems to most commonly “colonise” and infect people who are already sick or have compromised immune systems.
This includes cancer or transplant patients, or hospitalised patients who are very young or very old.
The infection can occasionally get in to surgical wounds or the bloodstream and enter the body during medical treatment including operations or when urinary catheters or drips are inserted.
Experts say medication used after organ transplants to prevent organ rejection can put someone at higher risk of contracting C.auris.
Diabetes is also said to be another reported risk factor.
However, fears recently surfaced that doctors have inadvertently infected patients by not washing their underarm thermometers properly before re-using them.
What is the treatment?
C.auris is treated with anti-fungal drugs, however 90 per cent of C.auris strains have been found to be resistant to at least one agent.
PHE says that there have been no pan-resistant strains reported in this country and at least one good treatment option exists in all cases.
Dr Colin Brown, Consultant Medical Microbiologist for Public Health England’s national infection service, said: “Candida auris is an uncommon fungus in the UK and our enhanced surveillance shows a low risk to patients in healthcare settings.
“Most cases detected have not shown symptoms or developed an infection as a result of the fungus.
“PHE is working closely with the NHS to provide expert support and advice on infection control measures to limit the spread of Candida auris.
“NHS hospitals that have experienced outbreaks of Candida auris have not found it to be the cause of death in any patients.”
These are the regions where the Candida auris infection is reported to have struck in the last five years
Controlling Candida auris
To prevent an outbreak, measures include screening and isolating infected patients, enhanced hand hygiene procedures, and cleaning of affected clinical areas.
But C.auris is notoriously hard to clear and is posing enormous challenges for hospital cleaning and infection control.
In addition to disinfectants with antifungal activity, hydrogen peroxide vapour or UV light are now also used, when feasible, to clean contaminated environments.
PHE advises that where possible, patients should avoid touching any areas of broken skin or wounddressings and ensure they wash their hands regularly, particularly after using the toilet and before eating food.
Healthy people do not usually become infected with C. auris, however visitors should wash their hands and use alcohol hand gel before and after touching patients or any items around the bedside.
Visitors may also be asked to wear a gown, plastic aprons and gloves.
GoFundMe Stephanie Spoor, with her husband Gregory, died after reportedly contracting Candida auris in hospital
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