Washington state experiencing first known outbreak of potentially deadly fungus: health officials

Four patients tested positive last month.

Washington state is experiencing its first known outbreak of a potentially deadly fungus, according to public health officials.

Four patients tested positive for Candida auris last month, the Seattle and King County Public Health Department said in a news release.

The first case occurred in a patient who was recently admitted to Kindred Hospital in Seattle and was identified through a proactive screening program.

The health unit said additional screening identified two new cases, as well as a case related to Kindred who initially tested negative for Candida auris when first admitted to hospital.

It’s unclear what the original source of infection was, and officials said the investigation is ongoing.

In July, a case of C. auris was discovered in a patient transferred to Kindred from St. Joseph’s Hospital in Pierce County. This is believed to be the first locally acquired case in Washington state, according to the department.

Health officials said they have been working with hospitals for months and “anticipate that Candida auris will eventually be identified in Washington state.”

“Public health will continue to work with Kindred to help limit the spread,” the release states. “This includes keeping patients who test positive for C. auris away from other patients to reduce the risk of transmission and using specific disinfectants that are effective against C. auris Cleaning products.”

The hospital also notified facilities treating Kindred patients and advised them to undergo fungal screening, the health department said.

Kindred did not immediately respond to ABC News’ request for comment.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Candida auris is a type of yeast that can cause serious illness and is easily spread among patients in healthcare settings.

It’s a relatively new fungus, first discovered in Japan in 2009, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). However, research conducted since then found that C. auris samples could be traced back to 1996 in South Korea.

Candida auris can be spread from person to person or by people coming into contact with contaminated surfaces.

According to the CDC, most healthy people do not need to worry about a Candida auris infection.

However, people with weak or immunocompromised immune systems and older patients or hospital patients with catheters or tubes in their bodies are at risk for infections that are difficult to treat.

Some strains of C. auris are drug-resistant, meaning the infection caused by the yeast will not respond to the many antifungal drugs commonly used to treat Candida infections.

Nonetheless, there is a class of antifungal drugs called echinocandins that are available intravenously. According to the National Institutes of Health, echinocandins block key enzymes needed to maintain fungal cell walls. According to the CDC, in some cases, multiple higher doses may be needed.

More than one-third of people with invasive C. auris infections (meaning it affects the blood, heart or brain) die, according to the CDC.

To prevent spread, the CDC recommends that family members and close contacts of people with C. auris properly disinfect their hands. Healthcare workers and laboratory workers are reminded to do the same and disinfect patient rooms and promptly report cases to public health authorities.

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