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WA’s first case of potentially lethal fungus diagnosed in Pierce County man

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Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department officials have issued a health alert and are still actively investigating after a Pierce County man was recently diagnosed with what is believed to be the first case of Candida auris in Washington state.

“We are working with DOH, Public Health Seattle-King County, Virginia Mason Franciscan Health and Kindred Hospitals to investigate,” TPCHD Public Information Officer Kenny Via told The Center Square. “We will provide testing for other patients who may have been exposed. This patient will remain isolated while he continues to receive care.”

Candida auris is a drug-resistant fungus that can cause severe infections, according to a Tuesday TPCHD news release that also notes the yeast variation can lead to acute sickness, particularly in those who’ve suffered serious medical conditions while spending time in hospitals. Patients in intensive care units and nursing homes are especially susceptible.

People carrying Candida auris can spread the fungus even if they’re not sick themselves, according to officials.

Approximately every one in three patients with a Candida auris infection dies, per the news release.

TPCHD officials said the man was first diagnosed on July 13, during an admission screening at Kindred Hospital Seattle – First Hill. The man had previously been a patient at St. Joseph Medical Center in Tacoma for about six weeks.

The man suffers from multiple comorbidities and has not traveled out of the state recently, officials said.

Tacoma-Pierce Division Director of Communicable Disease Control Nigel Turner indicated it’s too early to say if or how far the fungus may have spread across the state.

“Our investigation is ongoing to find out things like the scope of the spread,” he said. “As we do more investigation, we’ll have a much better idea. We prepare for this and other diseases to make sure we and our healthcare partners can respond quickly and effectively.”

From 2013 through 2022, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 5,654 infections across the United States.

The risk of otherwise healthy people being infected by Candida auris is extremely low, according to the CDC.

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