Deadly fungus threatens Alberta hospitals and care homes

Deadly fungus threatens Alberta hospitals and care homes

Experts are warning of a serious global health threat posed by Candida auris, a drug-resistant fungus that has been detected in small numbers in Alberta, Canada. Vigilance will be key in preventing outbreaks in hospitals and care homes, say experts, as the fungus can cause serious infections in people who are already very sick or immune-compromised, often in hospitals and nursing homes. Mortality rates for invasive C. auris infections, where the fungus infects the blood or organs, are estimated at over 40%.


According to Alberta Health Services, there is currently no routine screening for C. Auris among patients.

43 known cases in Canada

Across Canada, 43 cases have been confirmed since 2012, including 21 cases in British Columbia or Alberta, two in Saskatchewan or Manitoba, 19 in Ontario or Quebec, and one case from the Atlantic region, according to data from the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC).

Dr. John Gill, a Calgary-based infectious disease specialist, warned that C. auris will be a threat in every major healthcare facility in the developed world. The fungus, first identified in Japan in 2009, can be resistant to multiple drugs and is on everyone’s radar. PHAC’s surveillance shows that most of Canada’s known cases (35 of them) have been detected within the last five years, and one-third of these cases have been resistant to multiple drugs.


Dr. John Gill, an infectious disease specialist in Calgary.

No routine screening

Dr. Samir Sinha, director of geriatrics at Mount Sinai and the University Health Network Hospitals in Toronto, wants healthcare systems across the country to heed the warning out of the United States, where C. auris is spreading at an alarming rate in healthcare facilities. Sinha said that routine screening for the fungus is not currently in place in Canada, and often the diagnosis is missed. He noted that the fungus lives on surfaces, is hard to clean, and spreads easily by contact. Nursing homes are particularly vulnerable, and infection prevention and control measures need to be put in place to prevent outbreaks.

Alberta Health Services is monitoring the situation and developing a screening protocol in case it is needed. While events are rare in Alberta, patient screening and protocols will be implemented as needed. PHAC said that it is possible that C. auris will become more common in Canada, including the potential for outbreaks in healthcare and long-term care facilities. However, the risk to the general population is “very low” because healthy people don’t typically become seriously ill with the pathogen.

Early diagnosis and testing will be necessary to prevent outbreaks, said Dr. Gill. He added that surveillance and awareness are key, and more aggressive intervention may be necessary if the fungus becomes a problem locally. Candida auris is a serious global health threat that requires vigilance and concerted efforts to prevent its spread and mitigate its impact on vulnerable populations.

Source: CBC News

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