Superbug Fungus

Candida auris yeast, shown above, was first seen in a patient in 2009 in Japan.

Shawn Lockhart / CDC

New Jersey public health officials have been tasked with finding ways to address an outbreak of a rare, life-threatening infection that has been plaguing a growing number of patients nationwide.

Rutgers University experts are working on ways to quickly and accurately detect Candida auris yeast infections in patients and hospital environments. The majority of cases, which have occurred in New York and New Jersey, have been difficult to identify and treat, leading to high rates of death.

“What makes C. auris so alarming is that it is largely a drug-resistant, health care-associated infectious agent that can be easily transmitted between patients and the patients’ environment,” said David Perlin, executive director and professor of the Public Health Research Institute at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School.

C. auris is a yeast that can enter the bloodstream and does not respond to common antifungal medications. There have been 27 confirmed and 23 probable cases in New Jersey as of Sept. 30, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Reports did not identify at which New Jersey hospitals patients with C. auris were treated.

New York reported the most cases at 92 confirmed and 4 probable. The two neighboring states make up nearly 87 percent of all cases nationwide.

CDC experts said C. auris has presented in patients who have been hospitalized a long time, have lines or tubes entering their bodies or have previously received antibiotics or antifungal medications. The most common symptoms include fever and chills that don’t improve after antibiotic treatment.

C. auris can spread in health care settings through contact with contaminated surfaces or equipment, or from person to person.

Most people who get serious Candida infections are already sick from other medical conditions, according to the CDC, and 30 percent to 60 percent of patients with C. auris infections have died.

The CDC awarded Rutgers a $300,000, two-year contract to address the fungal pathogen.

Perlin and postdoctoral fellow Milena Kordalewska will lead the project in coming up with ways to more rapidly detect the infection in people and in health environments as well as analyze transmission patterns in New Jersey health care facilities using genetic fingerprint technology.

C. auris was first identified in a patient in Japan in 2009. As of Sept. 30, there were 166 confirmed and probable infections in New Jersey, New York, California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts and Oklahoma.

There is documented transmission of C. auris to U.S. patients from health care facilities in India, Pakistan, South Africa and Venezuela, according to the CDC.

“As reports of C. auris continue to mount within U.S. health care facilities, it is worrisome that the problem may grow much worse,” Perlin said in a statement.

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Contact: 609-272-7022 Twitter @ACPressNLeonard

Previously interned and reported for, The Asbury Park Press, The Boston Globe

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