Medical director encourages students to stay informed as CDC alerts on emerging fungus

Lab-grown strain of Candida Auris formed in a petri dish. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

By Sarah Wang | Staff Writer

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently sent out alerts to the public concerning Candida auris, an emerging fungus that presents a “serious global health threat.”

According to the CDC, Candida auris becomes an issue of concern for three main reasons: the fungus is often multidrug-resistant, difficult to identity with standard laboratory methods and has caused outbreaks in healthcare settings.

Medical Director of Baylor Health Services Dr. Sharon Stern said the fungus is not something that would cause disease in healthy college students and it is only seen in nursing home patients and very sick hospitalized patients.

“Candida auris is a type of yeast fungus. It is not a disease. It’s an actual organism,” Stern said. “It can cause serious disease, but only in people who are isolated in the intensive care unit in hospitals or nursing homes.”

Like the CDC suggests, Stern said it’s very hard to identify Candida auris with certainty, and the fungus has to be sent to a specialized lab to get identified. As Candida auris has recently been in the news, she said what may have happened is some labs have have not used the right equipment to identify the fungus, making it a possibility some people have confused it for a different one.

“It is possible that’s why all of a sudden it’s starting to pop up in different areas of the world kind of simultaneously,” Stern said. “It is that the lab techniques are getting better.”

Missouri City sophomore Yina Li said she has heard of Candida auris but did not hear of the fungus from her biology professors. She said she’s heard it from news reports among other sources.

Li said she did not have much knowledge about the causes of Candida auris, but she read that people catching the fungus would have some common symptoms.

Stern said she thinks the main reason the CDC is issuing an alert is because it can be relatively refractory to treatment. In other words, some of the Candida auris are resistant to the anti-fungals they have.

“But again, this is in people who are very, very ill,” Dr. Stern said. “It is not COVID-19, and it is not something that we’re likely to be impacted by.”

Even though it does not cause a threat to healthy college students, Stern said it is still good to know more about Candida auris to protect others.

“We all probably have relatives and people we know who are ill and in hospitals or in nursing homes, and we want to know better ways to protect them,” Stern said. “You want to quickly identify so you can really stop the spread by putting people in isolation and making sure everybody that goes in and comes out that they’re doing the proper cleaning techniques that they need to do.”