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Nursing homes have become a breeding ground for a deadly fungus, called Candida auris (C. auris), that has killed half the patients who contract it — within just 90 days.

C. auris is a highly contagious, drug-resistant fungus that has infected nearly 800 people since it arrived in the United States four years ago, according to The New York Times.

The germ is so virulent that some facilities will not accept patients with it.

Causes And Symptoms Of C. Auris

Medical officials put much of the blame for the spread of drug-resistant infections like C. auris on the overuse of antibiotics and on hospital-acquired infections. Heavy use of antibiotics, while often necessary, can kill off the nonresistant infections and allow resistant ones to thrive.

The most common symptoms of C. auris infection are fever and chills that fail to improve after antibiotic treatment, though only a laboratory test can diagnose the infection, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Nursing homes are a breeding ground for C. auris due to the fact that these facilities, as well as long-term hospitals, are considered a “dangerously weak link” in the health care system. That’s because the facilities often are understaffed and poorly equipped to enforce rigorous infection control.

At the same time, nursing homes and similar facilities cycle infected patients, or others who carry the germ, into hospitals and back again. The germs move from bed to bed, or from nursing home resident to family or staff.

The germ accompanies a nursing home resident to a hospital visit and into the public, often because of lax hygiene and poor staffing at those facilities.

Prevalence Of C. Auris In Nursing Homes

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls C. auris, which is a type of yeast, “a serious global health threat.” Drug-resistant infections also have been reported in facilities that treat old people in England, Italy and Israel.

The germ gets its name from “candida,” which is a yeast-like parasitic fungus, and “auris,” which is Latin for ear. The germ can affect other parts of the body than just the ear, including bloodstream and wound infections.

Information from a limited number of patients shows 30-60 percent of those with C. auris die, though many of them had other serious illnesses that increased their risk of death.

C. auris cases in the U.S. have been detected in the New York City area and the Chicago area. These cases are a result of inadvertent introduction into the country by a patient who recently received healthcare in a country where the germ has been reported or spread locally after an introduction, according to the CDC.

C. auris was first identified in Japan in 2009. As of July 31, 2019, it had infected 796 people in the U.S. Alabama is not among states with confirmed cases of C. auris, according to the CDC, and Florida had 24 cases and Georgia one.

The most confirmed cases of C. auris were in New York (375) Illinois (209) and New Jersey (131).

A study published in June in the Journal of Clinical Infectious Diseases found nursing home residents and patients in long-term-care facilities have “alarmingly high rates of drug-resistant colonization.” That means they carry the germs on their skin or in their bodies, usually unaware, and can pass the germs to other patients, staff and relatives.