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News / Health / Health Wire

Officials: Potentially lethal fungus detected in Pierce County man

Yeast resistant to drugs; case may be 1st of kind in Wash.

By Debbie Cockrell, The News Tribune
Published: July 20, 2023, 6:53pm

TACOMA — The Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department on Tuesday reported what is believed to be the state’s first locally acquired case of a potentially lethal fungus infecting a Pierce County man.

The agency said that the man was diagnosed July 13 with “colonization due to Candida auris, a multidrug-resistant fungus that can cause serious infections.”

The health department said the case is “believed to be the first locally acquired case in Washington.”

The strain is a type of yeast that can lead to severe illness, notably among those with “serious medical conditions who have spent time in hospitals — particularly ICUs — and nursing homes,” the agency said.

“Patients who are colonized can carry and spread C. auris even if it’s not making them sick,” it added.

The patient’s case was detected at Kindred Hospital Seattle — First Hill upon admission.

“Before that, he was a patient at St. Joseph Medical Center in Tacoma for about 6 weeks,” the health department said.

The man suffers from multiple ailments and has not traveled recently out of state.

According to the department, “From 2013 through 2022, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 5,654 infections of C. auris across the United States, including cases in Oregon, California and other Western states.”

Nigel Turner, division director for communicable disease, said in a statement, “We prepare for this and other diseases to make sure we and our healthcare partners can respond quickly and effectively.”

The fungus can cause serious infections in blood and wounds.

“More than 1 in 3 patients with C. auris infection dies,” the agency noted.

The health department is working with the Washington State Department of Health, Public Health Seattle-King County, Virginia Mason Franciscan Health and Kindred Hospitals in the investigation.

Testing will be provided for other patients who might have been exposed, the department said.

“This patient will remain isolated while he continues to receive care,” it added.

Risk of that type of fungal infection to otherwise healthy individuals, including health care workers, is “extremely low,” according to the CDC. It was first identified in Japan in 2009.

According to the CDC’s, the fungus can cause “outbreaks in health care settings. For this reason, it is important to quickly identify C. auris in a hospitalized patient so that healthcare facilities can take special precautions to stop its spread.”