AUSTIN, Texas — A fungal infection is making its rounds across healthcare facilities nationwide and that includes here in the Lone Star State. It's called Candida auris and although it’s not a new infection, its relevance is increasing and proving to be deadly.
The KVUE Defenders found the main concern is that it’s almost untreatable and some strains are resistant to antifungal treatments.
It might seem like a scene out of the hit show "The Last of Us." However, despite what many on social media have been comparing it to, it won’t turn you into a zombie.
Candida auris is a fungal infection that was first seen in the US in 2013 and in Texas in 2017, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services (TXDSHS).
“Candida auris can grow on the skin or in mucous membranes, and so it can be passed from person to person and just live on those surfaces until there's a chance for it to get inside the body, like into the bloodstream," Dr. Jennifer Shuford, the commissioner of the TXDSHS.
Shuford says the problem with this infection is its resistance to treatment. She says some of the strains are resistant to all the different classes of antifungals that exist.
Shuford told KVUE Defenders that Candida auris grows in the mucous membrane or on one's skin and can last on surfaces for weeks at a time.
“Unless it's cleaned well after somebody who has Candida auris is in that room, it can transfer to somebody else or medical equipment can transfer it from patient to patient in these health care facilities," said Shuford.
The data the state pulls is provisional, so it is ever-changing as health departments continue to report exposures they are seeing and investigating.
Last year, the State of Texas had 597 cases of Candida auris reported. So far this year, 132 cases in Texas. Compare these numbers to a week prior when we asked the state for the same numbers, Texas had only seen 62 cases reported for the year from data that had been sent in.
It’s important to remember, this doesn’t mean the infection has doubled in just a week, but health departments have sent in new batches of cases they’ve investigated.
The table above shows how many cases of Candida auris have been seen in Texas. Each Public Health Region (PHR) represents an area of Texas, which can be seen by clicking here.
Betsy Kirkpatrick, a registered nurse with the Austin Public Health Disease Surveillance Department, says there have thankfully been no reported cases here in Travis County this year.
She says recent changes in reporting requirements are making the numbers more prevalent.
“It was made nationally reportable in the U.S. in 2018, and it became a notifiable condition in Texas in 2021," said Kirkpatrick.
And the cases tend to pop up more in acute and long-term healthcare facilities.
“What we're seeing is a lot of these patients have been transferred from one of these facilities to another," said Shuford.
So, who is mainly at risk of infection?
“Patients that have other co-morbidities and also invasive medical devices are going to be more at risk for contracting this organism," said Kirkpatrick.
That includes the elderly. Why?
Both Shuford and Kirkpatrick say nursing homes are seeing Candida Auris cases because elderly patients often frequent healthcare settings, bringing the infection back with them.
It’s exactly why Alexa Schoeman, the Deputy State Long Term Care Ombudsman with Health and Human Services says proper hygiene practices are so crucial.
It’s her job to help resolve healthcare disputes.
“We are there to definitely work with the facilities and bring attention and also to help residents and their families understand their rights and what to look for in facilities," said Schoeman.
But with staffing shortages plaguing the nation, she says sometimes these cleanliness practices slip through the cracks.
“You can imagine if staffing is insufficient, then staff are rushing, they're not doing those basic things, washing their hands, disinfecting surfaces," says Schoeman.
And with an infection like this, the TXDSHS says invasive infections of Candida auris can carry a mortality rate of 30%-60%.
“Patients who get diagnosed with an invasive, serious infection and that would mean like a bloodstream infection, for instance, that one in three patients will die within a month," said Kirkpatrick.
However, experts say not everyone should worry about Candida auris as the infection mostly doesn't affect healthier individuals, but can still spread as it lasts on surfaces for a long time. For those invasive infections, it can present itself like sepsis says Shuford.
So no, even though this infection is serious and should be treated with care, it’s not exactly what's coming out of Hollywood.