Candida auris management


Volume 44-11, November 1, 2018: Healthcare-associated infections and antimicrobial resistance


Something wicked this way comes: What health care providers need to know about Candida auris

IS Schwartz1, SW Smith1, TC Dingle2,3


1 Division of Infectious Diseases, Department of Medicine, University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB

2 Division of Diagnostic and Applied Microbiology, Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology, University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB

3 Provincial Laboratory for Public Health, Edmonton, AB


Suggested citation

Schwartz IS, Smith SW, Dingle TC. Something wicked this way comes: what health care providers need to know about Candida auris. Can Commun Dis Rep 2018;44(11):271–6.

Keywords: Candida auris, candidemia, fungal infections, mycology, antifungal resistance, multidrug resistance, diagnosis, nosocomial, infection prevention and control

Visual Abstract

Visual Abstract

Visual Abstract
Description for Visual Abstract


Column 1 — Candida auris: an emerging multidrug resistant fungus. It is now in Canada, can cause invasive disease, is difficult to detect and spreads easily.

Column 2 — Who is at risk? Patients at risk are those who fail to respond to antifungal therapy and who have a history of: travel-associated healthcare, laboratory testing showing unidentified/unusual candida species, central venous line, abdominal surgery, exposure to broad-spectrum antibiotics or antifungals.

Column 3 — Best practices: Transfer the patient to a private room and consult: an infectious disease specialist, the infection prevention and control team, and public health.


Candida auris is a fungal pathogen that recently emerged and rapidly spread around the globe. It is now in Canada. C. auris can cause invasive disease with high mortality rates, is frequently resistant to one or more classes of antifungals, and can be difficult to identify in some clinical microbiology laboratories. C. auris can also involve prolonged colonization of patients’ skin and contamination of surrounding environments, resulting in nosocomial outbreaks in hospitals and long-term care facilities.

Clinicians, infection prevention and control practitioners and public health officials should be aware of how to mitigate the threat posed by this pathogen. Index cases of C. auris should be suspected in patients with invasive candidiasis and recent hospitalization in global regions where C. auris is prevalent, as well as in patients who fail to respond to empiric antifungal therapy and from whom unidentified or unusual Candida species have been isolated. If a case of C. auris infection or colonization is identified or suspected, the following should take place: notification of local public health authorities and infection prevention and control practitioners; placement of colonized or infected patients in single rooms with routine contact precautions; daily and terminal environmental disinfection with a sporicidal agent; contact tracing and screening for C. auris transmission; and referral of suspicious or confirmed isolates to provincial laboratories. Patients with symptomatic disease should be treated with an echinocandin pending the results of antifungal susceptibility testing, preferably in consultation with an infectious disease specialist. Through the vigilance of front-line health care workers and microbiologists, robust infection prevention and control practices, and local and national surveillance efforts, C. auris can be detected quickly, infections managed and transmissions prevented to protect patients in our health care system.


In July 2017, the first known case of multidrug-resistant Candida auris was reported in Canada in an individual who had a two-year history of recurrent ear complaints after returning from a trip to India that was marred by hospitalization for a brain abscess following oral surgery Footnote 1. This marked the arrival in Canada of a pathogen that has recently been spreading across the globe. The ability of this fungus to cause invasive disease, its frequent resistance to one or more classes of antifungal agents and its demonstrated potential for nosocomial transmission is of concern to clinicians and public health professionals alike Footnote 2Footnote 3.

The objective of this article is to summarize what we know about this fungus; outline the challenges of diagnosis, treatment and infection prevention and control, and identify what is being done to track and contain the spread of this pathogen in Canada.

Where in the world is C. auris?

C. auris was first described in Japan in 2009; since then, C. auris infections have been reported in at least 30 countries on six continents Footnote 4. Whole-genome sequence analyses of global isolates have demonstrated that these cluster into closely related (clonal) geographic clades Footnote 5 suggesting the near-simultaneous emergence of C. auris on at least three continents. For example, the average genetic distances between the East Asian, South Asian, South African and South American clades were 40,000 to 140,000 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), whereas on average, fewer than 70 SNPs separated any two isolates within a given clade Footnote 3. The reasons for this phenomenon are unknown.

In some countries, C. auris has already led to a significant burden of hospital-acquired disease. For example, C. auris is the cause of candidemia in 10% of cases nationally in South Africa Footnote 6, and 38% of cases in one referral hospital in Kenya (Okinda N et al. Candidemia at a referral hospital in sub-Saharan Africa: emergence of Candida auris as a major pathogen. Poster presented at: European Congress of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases; 2014 May 10–13; Barcelona, Spain). In India, C. auris was implicated in 5% of candidemia cases in 27 intensive care units (ICUs), although some Indian centres report proportions of 17.5%–30% Footnote 7Footnote 8. As of July 31, 2018, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the United States (US) reported 361 confirmed clinical cases of C. auris in US health care settings; an additional 699 colonized patients were diagnosed in four states with active surveillance Footnote 4. In Europe, at least 120 cases of candidemia and 466 cases of colonization occurred from 2013 to 2017 Footnote 9.

In Canada, the first two patients reported to be infected with C. auris had received health care in India Footnote 1Footnote 10. In one case, genomic characterization suggested that the infection was imported from the Indian subcontinent Footnote 11. Additional imported cases are anticipated. Transmission in Canadian health care facilities is inevitable.

What are clinical features of disease caused by C. auris?

The clinical spectrum of C. auris infection ranges from asymptomatic colonization to invasive candidiasis, most commonly in the form of healthcare–associated candidemia Footnote 12. Bloodstream infections can be protracted and difficult to treat, and crude mortality rates of approximately 30%–60% have been reported Footnote 5Footnote 13Footnote 14. Metastatic complications, such as spondylodiscitis, endocarditis and ventriculitis, have been described Footnote 13. Other frequently reported clinical syndromes include otomycosis and otomastoiditis Footnote 15Footnote 16: in fact, the etymology of the fungus reflects the anatomic origin of the first identified isolate, which was collected from a patient’s ear Footnote 17. Involvement of other sites, including respiratory, urogenital, abdominal, and skin and soft tissue, has also been reported Footnote 18.

Who becomes infected by C. auris and how?

Patients who develop candidemia caused by C. auris usually have risk factors in common with patients with disease caused by other Candida species Footnote 6Footnote 13Footnote 14Footnote 19. These include hospitalization and, in particular, admission to an ICU, use of central venous catheters, abdominal surgery and exposure to broad-spectrum antibiotics or antifungals Footnote 20.

There are several ways in which the pathogenesis of C. auris appears to differ from classically encountered Candida species (Table 1) Footnote 21. With the exception of C. parapsilosis, a skin colonizer, the majority of clinically important non-auris Candida species are commensals of the human gastrointestinal tract Footnote 21. The pathogenesis of candidemia caused by these species typically involves gut translocation of yeasts Footnote 21Footnote 22; although nosocomial transmission of Candida is occasionally reported, disease is most commonly caused by strains that are part of the patient’s endogenous flora Footnote 23.

Table 1: Differences between Candida auris and classical pathogenic Candida species
Feature Candida auris Classical Candida speciesTable 1 footnote a
Habitat Commensal of the skin Commensals of the gastrointestinal tractTable 1 footnote b
Pathogenesis of infection Exogenous Endogenous
Healthcare–associated infections Common Uncommon
Environmental contamination Common Uncommon
Multidrug resistance Common Uncommon

C. auris is primarily carried on the skin of colonized patients, and this can lead to contamination of the patient’s environment and spread to health care workers and other patients. Moreover, C. auris isolates implicated in healthcare–associated outbreaks have been clonally related, suggesting disease is caused by exogenous strains that are nosocomially spread Footnote 5Footnote 13Footnote 24Footnote 25.

What are the diagnostic challenges?

C. auris can be difficult to detect by routine laboratory testing. This may lead to delays in identifying and isolating colonized or infected patients. Commercial biochemical identification systems commonly used in clinical microbiology laboratories are unreliable for C. auris identificationFootnote 26. For example, C. auris can be misidentified by VITEK-2 (bioMérieux, Marcy-l’Étoile, France) (typically as C. haemulonii) Footnote 26 and by API20CAUX (usually as Rhodotorula glutinis, C. sake or Saccharomyces cerevisiae) Footnote 27. This may change as biochemical identification system databases are updated; for example, VITEK-2 YST card v. 8.01 now includes C. auris.

C. auris can be identified accurately using matrix-assisted laser desorption ionization time-of-flight (MALDI-TOF) mass spectrometry instruments with databases that include C. auris (these include the most recent Bruker MALDI Biotyper CA and Research Use Only [RUO] databases, and the bioMérieux VITEK MS RUO database [v4.14 with Saccharomycetales package])and by molecular-based sequencing methods.

What are the treatment challenges?

In general, C. auris isolates are less susceptible to antifungals than other Candida species, although patterns of susceptibility appear to be related to the geographic clade. Resistance to fluconazole is widespread, albeit not universal as was initially feared Footnote 2, and fluconazole resistance is now thought to be an acquired rather than a shared trait Footnote 21. Rates of fluconazole resistance have ranged from 14% among isolates from Colombia Footnote 25 to >90% among isolates belonging to the South Asian clade Footnote 14Footnote 28. Resistance to amphotericin B and the echinocandins also appear to be heterogeneous. Several studies have found amphotericin B resistance rates around 30% Footnote 5Footnote 14Footnote 25; alternatively, Chowdhary et al. reported amphotericin B resistance in 27/350 (8%) of Indian isolates Footnote 28. Significant variation in rates of amphotericin B resistance were encountered between regions in Columbia Footnote 25. Echinocandin resistance occurs in approximately 2%–5% of isolates Footnote 5Footnote 28Footnote 29. Resistance to two antifungal classes occurred in 41% of global isolates tested Footnote 5. In rare cases, isolates can be resistant to all three major classes of antifungal agents Footnote 5.

What are the challenges in infection prevention and control?

Nosocomial outbreaks are anticipated because patients can remain colonized and/or their environments can remain contaminated for weeks to months after infection Footnote 14Footnote 24Footnote 25Footnote 30. Large-scale hospital outbreaks in the United Kingdom (UK) have been associated with multi-use axillary thermometers Footnote 31; and in Spain with the use of blood-pressure cuffs Footnote 31. Moreover, C. auris has been recovered from a wide range of fomites from patient environments Footnote 13Footnote 14Footnote 24Footnote 25. Surface cationic-active disinfectants and quaternary ammonium disinfectants are ineffective against C. auris Footnote 13Footnote 33Footnote 34. C. auris is also relatively resistant to killing by ultraviolet light Footnote 35. Chlorhexidine gluconate, iodinated povidone, chlorine bleach and H2O2 vapour appear to be effective against C. auris Footnote 36.

The role of health care workers in spreading C. auris is still unknown. During investigation of the outbreak in the UK, C. auris was isolated from the nares of 1/258 health care workers, a nurse who was providing care for a patient who was heavily colonized Footnote 24. Moreover, an outbreak investigation in Colombia isolated C. auris from the hands of two health care workers and the groin of one out of six health care workers. Whole-genome sequencing established that these were genetically identical to strains isolated from a patient and his or her environment Footnote 25.

Tracking and containing C. auris can be particularly challenging due to interfacility transfer of infected or colonized patients in whom this status may not yet be recognized, potentiating spread of C. auris between facilities Footnote 14. For example, in New York, 112 patients in hospitals and long-term care facilities were affected: 61 had candidemia and 51 additional patients were found to be colonized on screening. Infected or colonized patients were transferred between a total of 24 hospitals and 24 long-term care facilities in the 90 days before their infection or colonization status was recognized Footnote 14.

Implications for clinical care

The prompt identification, management and containment of patients infected or colonized with C. auris require collaboration by hospitalists/intensivists, microbiologists, infectious disease experts, and infection control and prevention practitioners.

Clinicians should be aware of the yeast identification methods used by their local microbiology laboratory and consider C. auris when unidentified or unusual Candida species are isolated from patients who fail to respond to empiric antifungal therapy Footnote 37. Consultation with a microbiologist is recommended when C. auris is suspected. Isolates that are suspicious for or confirmed as C. auris should be referred to provincial laboratories for further testing. Given the challenges in predicting antifungal susceptibility patterns, antifungal susceptibility testing is recommended for all clinical C. auris isolates. Treatment of disease should be guided by antifungal susceptibility testing results, although echinocandins are appropriate for empiric therapy pending these results. Early consultation with an infectious disease expert is advised. Treatment of asymptomatic colonization is not recommended.

The identification of patients in whom infection or colonization with C. auris is suspected or confirmed should prompt consultation with local infection prevention and control practitioners. Infected or colonized patients should be isolated in private rooms; routine practices and contact precautions should be taken; and rooms should be cleaned daily with sporicidal disinfectants. Whether and when to discontinue isolation precautions is still being debated. The CDC currently recommends that infected or colonized patients be tested periodically with composite groin and axillary swabs for fungal culture to test for persistent colonization, with the proviso that patients can be de-isolated after two consecutive negative screening swabs Footnote 38. In practice, few reported patients have met such criteria Footnote 14. Alternatively, Public Health England recommends that isolation precautions be continued for the duration of a patient’s admission to hospital Footnote 39. This recommendation is in part because patients can become re-colonized after testing negative (Silke Schelenz, “Management of Candida auris outbreaks at a national level”. 20th Congress of the International Society for Human and Animal Mycology, Amsterdam, The Netherlands July 2018).

Table 2 shows a summary of how to detect, assess and manage C. auris. Further infection prevention and control guidelines are available from the CDC Footnote 39.

Table 2: What to do to detect and manage Candida auris
What to do How
Keep a high index of suspicion Consider C. auris in patients who:
  • received health care in countries (or US states) where C. auris is prevalent, as tracked by the CDC Footnote 4
  • have a clinical syndrome consistent with candidiasis and fail to respond to empiric antifungal therapy and from whom an atypical or unidentified yeast is isolated
Assess for C. auris specifically
  • Consult with a microbiologist and/or infectious disease specialist
  • Refer suspicious or confirmed isolates to relevant provincial laboratory for further testing or for referral to the National Microbiology Laboratory
Manage C. auris with a robust clinical infection control and public health response
  • Notify the institutional infection prevention and control team
  • Notify local public health officials, who will notify their provincial/territorial counterparts (who will notify the Public Health Agency of Canada)
  • Place patient in single room with contact precautions in addition to routine practices
  • In case of symptomatic disease, begin treatment, preferably with guidance from an infectious disease specialist (treatment of asymptomatic colonization is not recommended)
  • Order daily and terminal cleaning of the patient’s environment with sporicidal disinfectant
  • Enable local public health officials to initiate contact tracing and screening to assess for C. auris transmission
  • Order composite swab of axilla and groin when indicated for patient screening

Gaps and next steps

Many questions remain unanswered about how to best detect C. auris and limit its spread within and between Canadian health care facilities. Knowledge gaps regarding the optimal laboratory detection and identification of C. auris should be addressed by bolstering existing biochemical and MALDI-TOF identification databases and by developing simple, rapid and sensitive laboratory screening protocols. Uncertainties that affect infection prevention and control practices for C. auris include the duration that patients remain colonized (and thus how long patients should be isolated after first detection) and optimal screening strategies. For example, should screening be reserved for patients with documented contact with a known case or used for all patients who have travelled to or received health care in areas where C. auris is prevalent? Because the geographic distribution of C. auris will change over time, and in light of incomplete surveillance data from many regions, identifying patients at high risk for colonization can be challenging for front-line health care workers.

To better understand the epidemiology of C. auris in Canada, the Canadian Nosocomial Infection Surveillance Program is conducting national surveillance for infections in representative hospitals across the country. (Garcia Jeldes F, Mitchell R, Bharat A, McGeer A for the CNISP C. auris Interest Group. Preparedness for Candida auris in Canadian Nosocomial Infection Surveillance Program (CNISP) Hospitals, 2018. IDWeek 2018. October 3–7, 2018. San Francisco, California). In addition, a point prevalence study is planned to identify the prevalence of both colonization and infection in Canadian tertiary care hospitals (Dr. Allison McGeer, September 2018, personal communication). The surveillance and point prevalence data will provide evidence needed to guide the development of infection prevention and control policies surrounding this emerging pathogen.

Conflict of Interest


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