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What to know about Candida auris, an emerging cause of health care-associated infections

While C. auris poses little risk to the general public, it's become a greater concern for health care facilities.

Candida auris is a type of fungus that can infect patients with weakened immune systems. Infections in hospital settings have been on the rise across the U.S.
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ROCHESTER — Across the U.S., cases of Candida auris infections in health care settings increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to newly published surveillance data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

While experts say C. auris, a type of yeast, doesn't pose much of a threat to the general public, C. auris infections can be hard to treat, as it's resistant to some treatments.

"The first cases were detected in the United States in 2016," said Laura Tourdot, a senior epidemiologist in the Minnesota Department of Health's Healthcare-Associated Infections section. "It is primarily associated with health care-associated infections."

C. auris can colonize, or live on, human skin. If the average person comes into contact with C. auris, infection is unlikely — Tourdot said the general population is healthy enough to shed the fungus from their skin.

"These are opportunistic infections," Tourdot said. "They find a susceptible host, which are generally people who are at higher levels of care."


This is why many C. auris cases across the U.S. have been found in health care settings — people who are already sick or otherwise susceptible to infection are at greatest risk of developing a C. auris infection in their bloodstream, urine or any other part of their body.

"Generally, most people who are infected with Candida auris have a multitude of other underlying conditions, so it might be hard to even detect they're sick because of Candida auris," Tourdot said.

Though the risk of C. auris infections has increased nationwide, Minnesota remains in a good place. Tourdot said Minnesota identified its first C. auris infection in 2019, and that was the only infection found in the state to date . Five other cases of C. auris colonization — where it was present on a patient's skin, but not causing an infection — have been found statewide. MDH did not disclose where those colonization and infection cases were found.

"One of the biggest things to note is that all cases have been reported within patients who have either had international health care exposure or health care in areas of the U.S. with documented transmission," Tourdot said. "Each case has been identified, we've conducted a thorough investigation afterwards and we have never seen documented spread of Candida auris in Minnesota."

Overall, Tourdot said C. auris poses a very low risk for the general public in Minnesota. There are ways to prevent infection, though, if you are visiting someone at a hospital or nursing home or spending time in the hospital yourself.

"If you're visiting someone within a health care facility, make sure to perform good hand hygiene before entering the building, after leaving the building," Tourdot said. "If you are even hospitalized for a short amount of time, observe your environment. If you see a health care provider not performing hand hygiene, that is your right — speaking up for yourself to encourage those health care providers (to be safe)."

And MDH has published guidance for health care facilities to follow in order to prevent the spread of C. auris, Tourdot said. In 2019, MDH recommended that acute care facilities should screen for patients who had received health care outside of the U.S. or in areas of the country with transmission of C. auris in the last year.

"We put out updated recommendations in 2021," Tourdot said. "We've been working with numerous facilities to get their admission screening on board ... so as soon as someone is detected to have Candida auris, they can be put on transmission-based precautions."


A spokesperson told the Post Bulletin that Mayo Clinic follows CDC infection control guidelines in its facilities in regard to C. auris.

Dené K. Dryden is the Post Bulletin's health care reporter. She previously covered the Southeast Minnesota region for the Post Bulletin. Dené's a graduate of Kansas State University, where she cut her teeth working for the student newspaper, the Kansas State Collegian, and the student radio station, Wildcat 91.9. Readers can reach Dené at 507-281-7488 and ddryden@postbulletin.com.
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