More counties in Western Washington see deadly fungus outbreak

A new outbreak of Candida Auris has impacted two more counties in Western Washington. The first case was detected back in July of 2023 in Pierce County at St. Joseph’s Hospital.

The CDC website says Candida Auris can cause a person to get very sick and doesn’t respond to medicine.

“Candida auris is a type of yeast that can cause severe illness and spreads easily among patients in healthcare facilities,” writes the CDC website. “It is often resistant to antifungal treatments, which means that the medications that are designed to kill the fungus and stop infections do not work.”

The CDC says the fungus can cause infections in the bloodstream, open wounds, and ears.

“Symptoms may be similar to symptoms of an infection caused by bacteria,” writes the CDC’s website.

King County said that on January 22, 2024, an outbreak involving three patients colonized with C. auris was reported at Kindred Hospital in Seattle. Another case was detected on January 26 at a skilled nursing home in Snohomish County.

“Candida Auris is what’s a called an emerging pathogen so a newer infectious disease and Candida Auris is a type of fungus that can cause infections in humans,” John Lynch, of UW Medicine and Harborview, said. “It’s actually very difficult to know if someone has Candida Auris infection people can have it on their skin or parts of their body without causing any disease.”

Lynch said the only way to confirm if someone has it, is if they get lab testing done.

Kindred Hospital is part of a program that is proactively screening for the fungus. Health officials said they won’t be surprised if more cases come up because they are actively testing for it.

“The reason why we’re concerned about Candida Auris is because it spreads so easily especially in healthcare environments, especially among patients who have underlying conditions and have devices in their bodies,” the Deputy Chief of Communicable Disease and Epidemiology Immunization Section for King County and Seattle, Meagan Kay, said. “This is really not a big concern for the public, we’re reporting about it for transparency and for people to understand the work we’re doing to keep people safe.” The fungus can be spread through surfaces and from person-to-person contact. The best thing to do is practice good hygiene and keep surfaces clean and sanitized.

Lynch said the most important thing is hand washing.

“I’d say the most important thing is looking at hand hygiene we talk about washing our hands and it’s an important intervention we should be practicing when we work with patients and when we leave the patient’s space,” Lynch said.

The CDC’s website says the fungus is not a threat to healthy people and that it most affects people with severe underlying medical conditions.

To learn more about Candida Auris, visit the CDC’s website.