CDC grants Rutgers $300,000 to determine fungal infections from India, Pakistan

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A strain of Candida auris cultured in a petri dish at CDC. (Courtesy cdc.gov)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has awarded Rutgers University a $300,000 contract over two years to address the cause of an increase in life-threatening illnesses resulting from a deadly fungal infection caused by the yeast Candida auris. The infection, which enters the bloodstream and is difficult to identity, often does not respond to commonly used antifungal drugs, leading to high mortality.

Nearly 1.4 million deaths occur annually around the world as a result of the infections, which take the greatest toll in patients with compromised immune systems.

Infections from this yeast have been observed in 10 states, mostly in the New York City/New Jersey area, and are prevalent in patients who have been hospitalized for a long time who either have lines or tubes entering their body or have previously received antibiotics or antifungal medications.

The first case of C. auris was reported in Japan in 2009 and as of Sept. 18 of this year, the CDC reported 153 confirmed and probable infections from C. auris brought into the United States from healthcare facilities in India, Pakistan, South Africa and Venezuela.

The Rutgers team, which is led by David Perlin, executive director and professor of the Public Health Research Institute at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, will identify a new way to rapidly and accurately detect C. auris in swabs from patients and hospital environments. The researchers will analyze transmission patterns in New Jersey healthcare facilities using genetic fingerprint technology, in collaboration with Thomas Kirn, medical director of the Public Health Laboratory Service at the New Jersey Department of Health, who also holds positions at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and University Hospital.

“What makes C. auris so alarming is that it is largely a drug-resistant, healthcare-associated infectious agent that can be easily transmitted between patients and the patients’ environment, this is extremely rare for a yeast,” Perlin is quoted in a press release from Rutgers.

Perlin called the rising number of cases in U.S., “worrisome” and likely to get worse. “The keys to containing the epidemic are infection control, the development of molecular tools to reliably and rapidly identify the pathogen and a better understanding of its genetic profile that facilitates transmission within hospital environments,” Perlin said.

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