King County public health officials confirmed Tuesday the first known outbreak of a deadly fungus in Washington state.
The fungus, known as Candida auris or Candida auris, first emerged in the state in July when a Pierce County resident tested positive for the fungus at Kindred Hospital, a long-term acute care hospital in Seattle, according to the Seattle Department of Public Health . King County. No further cases were detected at that time.
Another case of Candida auris infection was diagnosed this month in a patient who was recently admitted to Kindred, the public health agency said in a blog post. The patient was tested through a state Department of Health screening program that encourages early detection of multidrug-resistant organisms, or organisms that are resistant to treatment, such as Candida auris, the post said.
More than a week later, three more cases were confirmed at the hospital, with all patients testing negative for the fungus when first admitted, meaning the infection had begun to spread in the state’s first known outbreak of C. auris.
Public health officials said they were not yet certain of the original source of the infection, adding that “may never be determined.” No further information about the patient is available at this time.
“Public health will continue to work with Kindred to help limit the spread,” the post said. “This includes keeping patients who test positive for C. auris away from other patients to reduce the risk of transmission and using specific disinfectant cleaning that is effective against C. auris product.”
Kindred is notifying other facilities that received patients who were previously seen at Kindred.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said last spring that Candida auris infections are considered an urgent public health threat and are spreading at an “alarming” rate during the coronavirus pandemic. The fungus, first reported in the United States in 2016, led to a 200% surge in infections between 2019 and 2021, The New York Times reported last year.
Claire Bostrom-Smith, King County’s healthcare-associated infection program manager, said in a blog post that C. auris is particularly concerning because it is resistant to common antifungal drugs. It can also spread in a patient’s body without them showing any symptoms, a process called “colonization,” Bostrom-Smith said.
Bostrom-Smith added that 5 to 10 percent of patients who are “colonized” with C. auris eventually develop “invasive” infections that can be severe. Bostrom-Smith said more than 45 percent of patients with invasive infections die within 30 days.
Bostrom-Smith said patients in long-term acute care facilities are often most at risk, largely because they tend to be very sick and dependent on equipment such as catheters or breathing tubes.
In general, C. auris does not pose a threat to healthy people, according to the CDC.
Symptoms typically include infection in different parts of the body, including blood, open wounds and ears, but it depends on the location and severity of the infection, the CDC said. The agency noted that some symptoms may be similar to others caused by the bacteria, adding that there is “no common set of symptoms” for C. auris infection.
Bostrom-Smith added that the fungus is also difficult to remove in healthcare settings because it can survive on some surfaces for weeks or longer.
Tuesday’s post said that because public health teams have been working with Kindred for months on an early screening program, they expect C. auris “will eventually be found in Washington.”
“Early identification is key to controlling the spread of C. auris so that prevention strategies can be developed before it spreads widely,” the Seattle and King County Public Health Department said.