A deadly, drug-resistant fungus called candida auris is spreading around the world at an alarming rate, reported Business Insider.
Hundreds of thousands of people die annually from antibiotic-resistant superbugs – bacteria that evolve so quickly that existing treatments are useless against them. But it’s not just bacterial infections that are spreading, drug-resistant fungal infections have become a problem as well.
In 2009, doctors first found candida auris in the ear discharge of a patient in Japan. Since then, the fungus has spread to numerous other countries, including the US, Colombia, India, and South Korea, according to the US government health authority, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Earlier this year, Professor Nelesh Govender from the National Institute for Communicable Diseases told 702 that the first case was detected in South Africa as far back as 2009. He said some 1 700 cases were detected between 2012 and 2016.
“Candida Auris is found in almost 100 hospitals across South Africa so it is a widespread problem. The vast majority of cases have occurred in Gauteng.”
Govender told 702 that the infection is more prominent in private sector hospitals. “While these hospitals have excellent infection control systems, antibiotics are overused,” he said.
Over-reliance on pesticides and drugs creates superbugs
Doctors and researchers are still unsure what causes drug-resistant diseases, but they do know there are different strains of candida auris in different parts of the world, causing them to believe the fungus didn’t come from a single place, The New York Times reported.
Some experts believe heavy use of pesticides and other antifungal treatments caused candida auris to appear in a variety of locations around the same time. In 2013, researchers reported on another drug-resistant fungus called Aspergillus and observed that it existed in places where a pesticide that targeted that specific fungus, was used.
Pesticides, antifungals and antibiotics continue to be heavily used on crops and in livestock and it could be that the fungi and bacteria they’re targeting learn how to evolve to stay alive in spite of the treatments.
Some researchers believe the global rise in candida auris is partly due to climate change, according to a recent editorial from the American Society for Microbiology.
“As the climate has gotten warmer, some of these organisms, including candida auris, have adapted to the higher temperature, and as they adapt, they break through humans’ protective temperatures,” Dr. Arturo Casadevall, chair of the Department of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said.
People with weakened immune systems run a high risk of infection
Typically, candida auris affects people with weakened immune systems who are in hospital or are suffering from severe ilnesses.
In the UK, an intensive care unit was shut down when 72 people were infected with candida auris in 2016. In Spain, a hospital found that 372 patients had the fungus with 41 percent of those patients dying within 30 days of being diagnosed.
What is concerning about candida auris is that it can’t be contained with existing drug treatments. It has the ability to survive on surfaces like walls and furniture for weeks, according to the CDC. People who contract these drug-resistant diseases typically die soon after contracting them because of their untreatable nature.
Most fungal and bacterial infections can be stopped using drugs. But with drug-resistant fungi and bacteria, their genes evolve so quickly that the treatment meant to target them proves ineffective and allows the dangerous disease to spread.
Drug-resistant diseases are difficult to detect
Many people who carry drug-resistant diseases don’t show any symptoms and spread them unknowingly. According to the CDC, one in ten people the agency screened for superbugs carried a drug-resistant disease unknowingly.
In other words, someone may not realize they have candida auris if they are also sick with another illness, the CDC wrote on its website. Fever and chills that don’t go away following drug treatment are common candida auris symptoms, but the only way to diagnose the fungus is through a lab test.