Outbreak of dangerous fungus declared at Montreal-area hospital

Quebec’s health ministry has dispatched infection control teams to Pierre Boucher Hospital in Longueuil to combat a first-ever outbreak of a potentially deadly fungus in Quebec.

Candida auris is a type of yeast that can cause severe illness. It is particularly dangerous in health-care settings.

Two patients have confirmed cases, and three people who had direct contact with infected people are under investigation, according to public health spokesperson Marjorie Larouche.

The fungal infection is often benign, although hard to treat, in healthy people. However, it can be deadly for people in poor health, or who have weak immune systems.

Control measures are already in place for confirmed and suspected cases.

Those measures include “isolation of positive contacts, hand hygiene, masks, gowns, gloves, and the use of chlorinated products to disinfect equipment and frequently touched surfaces,” Larouche told CTV News.

Candida auris has been identified in only five patients in Quebec since 2012, including the most recent two discovered in Longueuil.

“These are all cases with probable acquisition outside the country, except for the last 2 recent cases for which an investigation is underway,” said spokesperson Aurele Iberto-Mazzali, from Quebec’s Public Health Institute (INSPQ).

This undated file photo made available by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows a strain of Candida auris cultured in a petri dish at a CDC laboratory. (Shawn Lockhart/Centers for Disease Control and Prevention via AP, File)

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Candida auris has “a sort of perfect recipe of ingredients that allows it to be quite problematic,” according to microbiologist Donald Vinh, who studies people with fungal infections.

“It has a tendency to be very sticky and attach to human skin,” he said.

“If it’s on your skin at the time of interventions or procedures it can go into your body and cause infections.”

That’s why it’s particularly dangerous when it spreads within a hospital or health care setting, usually through contact with infected people or contaminated surfaces.

Candida auris is more resistant to the antifungal medications used to treat other Candida fungi. It’s also not as common as its Candida cousins ​​and so is harder to identify by microbiology labs, Dr. Vinh said.

The health ministry said it is actively involved in the investigation and containment efforts.

“Our infection control and public health teams are in close contact with the CISSS de la Montérégie-Est,” said Larouche.

The outbreak is a serious concern, said Vinh, “but doesn’t mean, however, that the general public has to be concerned about Candida auris.”

“It certainly means that people who work in the hospital should be vigilant with their infection control measures,” he said.

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