One case of deadly fungus Candida auris detected in NZ

Sat, Mar 25

A deadly fungus on the rise in the US has been detected in New Zealand, the Ministry of Health has confirmed.

The fungus, known as Candida auris, doesn't endanger healthy people, but can make people with weak immune systems suffer severe illness and die.

Health officials said in a media release that they are "monitoring the situation closely".

"New Zealand has recently detected one case of Candida auris, which was acquired overseas," they said.

"We are aware of a rising number of cases of Candida auris overseas, including in the United States, and are monitoring the situation closely.

"Infections from Candida auris occur mainly in patients who have spent a long time in aged residential homes or hospitals and have invasive medical devices entering their body such as intravenous lines, urinary catheters, or have previously received some antibiotics or other anti-fungal medicines.

"Hospitals in New Zealand currently have good infection prevention and control measures in place to minimise spread, including guidelines for healthcare workers on preventing infections when inserting medical devices.

"Symptoms of Candida auris vary depending on the infected part of the body, but common signs include a persistent fever and chills.

Authorities are warning people who have "recently spent time in a hospital overseas and have any symptoms of Candida auris to immediately contact their doctor, iwi health professional, or Healthline.

Yesterday, Otago University biochemistry professor Kurt Krause told Breakfast that the fungus has "some elements of a superbug" and that it was certainly a "dangerous bug".

"The number of cases in the US - which used to hover around a few hundred - shot up in the last couple of years to where there were about 6000 in 2022," he said.

"Those numbers shot up during the Covid epidemic because our hospitals were sort of being overcrowded, and Candida auris really loves to live in hot, overcrowded hospital situations.

"It's very, very difficult to eradicate. It gets on bed surfaces, bed railings, windows, and gets picked up and gets transmitted. That's the big problem."

Additionally, the expert said that healthy people could be infectious through their skin for days or even months without knowing they were exposing others — a state known as colonisation as opposed to infection.

"Mostly healthy people aren't so much at risk for having a serious infection, but they can carry it on their skin. This particular fungus loves to grow on skin and also tends to shed from skin. So, the problem is sort of unwitting transmission."