Apr 10, 2019

Candida auris has been the subject of repeated alerts from public health officials, including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It has spread rapidly in the Chicago area since then, to the point where Illinois has about one-quarter of the cases nationwide.

The disease was first found in Japan in 2009 and is now in more than 20 countries. It reached Illinois by 2016.

The fungus can frequently be found on people’s skin. Screening of patients found 453 people who had the yeast on their body but were not ill. It can be spread in health care facilities through contact with contaminated people or surfaces, but healthy people don’t usually get infected, the state reported.

It more often strikes people who already have multiple underlying conditions. Patients who have had invasive medical procedures or have wounds were more commonly found to have an infection. Four out of 5 patients with Candida auris in Illinois had an intravenous infusion, two-thirds had wounds and half or more had a feeding or breathing tube or urinary catheter.

Dr. Max Brito, associate professor of infectious disease at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine, said Candida is the latest in a line of multi-drug-resistant superbugs that health officials must treat.

“It’s a combination of factors that makes you more prone to get a bug like this,” he said. “It’s a concern for people with a chronic disease or a weakened immune system.”

One theory, he said, is that common use of anti-fungals in the agriculture industry may contribute to the development of fungus that resists treatment.

Many cases of the disease in the U.S. have been resistant to at least one anti-fungal treatment, but health officials said the vast majority of cases in Illinois have responded to treatment. Ninety-five of the known cases in the state are in Chicago, 56 in suburban Cook County and seven in DuPage, Lake and Will counties.