A highly drug-resistant and potentially fatal yeast strain called Candida auris is emerging in hospital settings around the world.
The yeast has shown resistance to three of the most commonly prescribed antifungal drugs: fluconazole, amphotericin B and caspofungin.
U.S. public health officials are urging doctors and nurses to be on the lookout for the dangerous pathogen, which can be fatal in 30 percent to 60 percent of infected patients.
The yeast strain has been found in nine countries on four continents since 2009, including one possible infection in the United States in 2013. It was first identified in Japan in 2009 in a person with an ear infection. Other countries with confirmed infections are India, South Africa, Kuwait, Pakistan, South Korea, Colombia, Venezuela and the United Kingdom.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sent an alert warning of the potential threat of C. auris in the U.S. and globally.
Tom Chiller, chief of the mycotic diseases branch at the CDC, which monitors and studies fungal infections, told VOA the drug-resistant strain of C. auris "sounds pretty nasty."
However, Chiller said, he hasn't heard of any clusters or outbreaks of C. auris, making it "very, very rare."
Invasion through wounds
C. auris poses the greatest risk to hospitalized patients with diabetes and people with large vein catheters. Patients who are taking antibiotics or antifungal medications or who are in intensive care are also at risk.
The yeast infection can get inside the body through open wounds. Once inside, it can infect the bloodstream, causing organ failure.
Identifying the culprit
Officials with the CDC say the biggest problem in spotting C. auris is that it mimics other more harmless, treatable yeast infections, such as those of the genitals, skin or throat.
Common yeast infections can be identified through conventional testing, but the specialized, molecular detection methods necessary for identifying C. auris are not available to all hospitals. This raises the concern that cases are not being identified in other countries.
What to do
U.S. public health officials recommend that patients infected with C. auris have their own hospital rooms, which should be disinfected regularly.
The CDC also recommends that doctors immediately report suspected infections to local and federal health authorities.