First Outbreak of Deadly Fungal Infection Confirmed in Washington State, Officials Say


Candida auris was first identified in 2009 in Japan and is resistant to many anti-fungal drugs.

Authorities in Washington state confirmed an outbreak of a deadly fungal infection that has been on the rise across the United States in recent years.

Officials in King County, Washington, said in a statement on Tuesday that an outbreak involving three patients infected by Candida auris, or C. auris, was reported at Kindred Hospital in Seattle beginning in mid-January. Another case was detected on Jan. 26 at a nursing home in nearby Snohomish County, officials said.

“These patients had previously tested negative for C. auris when they were first admitted,” it said. “This is the first known outbreak of C. auris in Washington state.”

The health department said it will “work together” with Kindred Hospital to limit the transmission of C. auris, including keeping those who test positive for the fungal infection to stay “away from other patients.”

Kindred Hospital will also notify other facilities that “received patients who were previously at Kindred and will notify facilities that may receive any patient who screens positive for C. auris,” the county’s statement added.

“As is the case with many multi-drug resistant organisms, it can be difficult to identify the initial source of the infection, and while the investigation is ongoing, the original source of C. auris in this situation may never be identified,” the statement continued. “However, with the early identification of these cases, there is a greater opportunity to reduce the risk of further spread.”

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The cluster of cases comes as the fungal infection continues to spread across the United States, according to data provided by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Since 2016, cases of C. auris have risen each year.

First Detection in the US

Between 2019 and 2021, the CDC said, 17 states identified their first cases, with clinical cases rising nationwide from 476 in 2019 to 1,471 in 2021.

“Screening cases tripled from 2020 to 2021, for a total of 4,041,” the CDC said.

The reason for the increase, the agency added, is due to a multitude of factors such as poor practices around general infection prevention and control in health care facilities, and also possibly due to an increase in reporting and detecting cases.

C. auris was first identified in 2009 in Japan, officials said. The CDC classifies the infections as an urgent public health issue because the fungus is “often resistant to multiple antifungal drugs, spreads easily in healthcare facilities, and can cause severe infections with high death rates.”

“In general, C. auris is not a threat to healthy people,” the CDC said. “People who are very sick, have invasive medical devices, or have long or frequent stays in healthcare facilities are at increased risk for acquiring C. auris.”

It added that the mortality rate of a severe infection is between 30 and 60 percent, but because it generally affects people with compromised immune systems, the CDC considers it rare.

People can get the infection through direct contact with an infected individual or by touching objects or surfaces that are contaminated. Researchers have previously said that the fungus can live for at least two weeks on surfaces and objects.

John Lynch, with the University of Washington’s Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, told KIRO-7 TV that the fungus is described as “an emerging pathogen so a newer infectious disease,” adding that it is still “very difficult to know if someone has Candida auris infection” and that “people can have it on their skin or parts of their body without causing any disease.”

The only way to know if someone is infected, he added, is through laboratory testing.

“The reason why we’re concerned about Candida auris is because it spreads so easily, especially in health care environments, especially among patients who have underlying conditions and have devices in their bodies,” Meagan Kay, a health official with King County and Seattle, told the outlet. “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.”


Infection with C. auris can lead to a range of symptoms, officials say. The fungus can infect the bloodstream, ears, wounds, urinary tracts, and other parts of the body, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

General symptoms include fever, low blood pressure, lethargy and fatigue, low body temperature, chills, high heart rate, or pain or pressure in the ear if the fungus infects the ear, it says.

“Since many people who get C. auris infections are already seriously ill, symptoms of C. auris may not be noticeable. Many people carrying C. auris don’t have symptoms but can still pass it to someone else,” the clinic says.

Individuals who are at risk of infection include those with diabetes or blood cancer, had surgery recently, been on antibiotics for a long time or use them often, or have been in a health care facility or hospital for a lengthy period of time, it says. Those using a central venous line, breathing tube, catheter, or a similar device are also at risk.


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