Drug-Resistant Candida auris Fungus Found in Louisiana for First Time, Weeks After Oregon

A drug-resistant fungus has infected two patients at a hospital in Louisiana for the first time.

The fungus, called Candida auris, was found in two patients at University Medical Center in New Orleans, according to local news outlet Nola.

The hospital has notified the public of the cases but has not disclosed whether or not the patients had been recently transferred from other health centers or had a history of international travel.

Dr. Alfred Luk, medical director of transplant infectious diseases at Tulane University School of Medicine, told Nola more cases will likely follow and said: "I know everyone is exhausted from alarmist news, but I'm really concerned about it."

The Louisiana cases are not the first to be reported in the U.S. in recent weeks. In December 2021, the fungus was also detected in three patients in Oregon, again marking the state's first cases of the infection.

The first case was detected at Salem Hospital on December 11 in a patient who had recent international health care exposures, according to an Oregon Health Authority (OHA) news release. Two of the cases did not have international health care exposures, but had epidemiologic links to the first case which indicated health care-associated spread.

"With the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen a rise in multi-drug resistant organisms around the world and nationwide, and Salem is not immune," said Jasmin Chaudhary, medical director of infection prevention at Salem Health.

Candida auris is an emerging fungus in the U.S., with cases mostly occurring after mid-2015, according to the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists in 2018. It has been reported from over 30 countries overall.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Candida auris presents a serious global health threat with most cases of infection resulting from local spread within health care facilities. There have been over 1,150 clinical cases in the U.S. since 2013, according to the OHA.

In some patients it can cause severe illness and death, entering the bloodstream and spreading throughout the body. Patients who have been hospitalized for a long time, have lines or tubes entering the body, or who have previously received antibiotics or antifungal medicines appear to be at highest risk of infection.

The CDC states that based on information from a limited number of patients, 30 to 60 percent of people infected with the fungus have died. However, many of these patients have had other serious illnesses as well.

Part of the concern surrounding Candida auris is that it is resistant to multiple antifungal drugs. Some strains are resistant to all three available classes of antifungals, the CDC states, making infection with these strains even more difficult to treat.

In a situation where a patient has a Candida auris infection that is resistant to all three main classes of antifungal medications, multiple classes of antifungals at high doses may be required to treat the infection.

More work is needed to further understand the spread of this fungus, the CDC says.

Patient in bed
A stock photo shows a hospital patient lying in bed being cared for by a health professional. Candida auris is a drug-resistant fungus that has been found spreading in healthcare settings. Chinnapong/Getty