Thus, Mississippi became the new US state where residents reported being infected with Candida auris, a highly contagious fungus that thrives in hospitals and nursing homes. This case will not be the last, and without much effort, the number of infections and deaths will continue to accumulate, writes Stat News .
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The state Department of Public Health announced the identification of six people infected with C. auris. This pathogen can infect almost any surface imaginable, from intravenous catheters and feeding tubes to sheets, medical gowns and sinks. Elderly or immunocompromised people are most vulnerable to this pathogen, and it is often fatal: two out of six people infected in Mississippi have died.
As the United States is ill-equipped to deal with this crisis both clinically and politically, the Mississippi scenario will continue to play out across the country in the coming months and years.
The rapid ascent of C. auris is alarming. The fungus has blazed a deadly path around the world since Japanese researchers identified the first known infection in 2009. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in 2016 that they had reported seven cases of C. auris in four states: New York, New Jersey, Maryland, and Illinois. By 2019, the pathogen had infected more than 700 people in 12 states, and the number continues to rise. In 2022, Louisiana, New Mexico, Tennessee, Wisconsin, Delaware, and Hawaii confirmed their first cases of C. auris infection, and nearly 5,000 people in the US are currently infected with it.
C. auris can cause devastating infections that affect the blood, heart, and brain. It is often resistant to available treatments, and 30% to 60% of infected people die. Once an infection is identified, it can disrupt a facility’s day-to-day operations as it is a persistent pathogen that can survive on surfaces for long periods and resist conventional disinfectants. Stopping an outbreak and sterilizing facilities can be extremely costly and disruptive, denying access to medical care to those who need it most. Last year, for example, a long-term care facility treating critically ill patients in Detroit was forced to stop seeing patients after a C. auris outbreak
Public health experts have been warning for years that C. auris and other fungal infections are a growing threat. Numerous studies have detailed how climate change may contribute to the spread of these pathogens as the world warms. C. auris is just one of dozens of fungal pathogens affecting humans, yet the United States and the rest of the world are taking no action against this threat.
A quick assessment of the antifungal arsenal reveals how underprepared countries are. According to a published study, no new class of antifungal drugs has emerged in the last 20 years, and only one new drug from a known class of antifungal drugs has been approved in the last decade. Investment in this area is sorely lacking: the World Health Organization reports that fungal infections receive less than 1.5% of all funding for infectious disease research.
To draw attention to this crisis and help identify gaps in research and development, WHO recently identified 19 fungal pathogens that pose a serious threat to human health and divided them into three priority categories: medium, high and critical. C. auris is one of the top four priorities. The WHO list is an important and welcome step forward, but politicians at the highest levels of government need to recognize the threat of C. auris and take action to eliminate it.