Eight people have died after becoming infected with a deadly Japanese ‘super-fungus’ health watchdogs have revealed.
According to a report in the Times the patients, in British hospitals, were infected by Candida auris a yeast renowned for its resistance to anti-fungal drugs and its ability to jump from person to person.
It was not listed as cause of death in any of the cases as the victims were already gravely ill when they became infected.
However, it is said to have been likely to have weakened them and made it harder to treat their conditions.
The super-fungus, which emerged just 10 years ago in Japan equipped with a fearsome biological armoury that lets it flourish in hospitals and resist most drugs and disinfectants.
Public Health England said 50 more Britons have been infected by Candida auris while in hospital but were successfully treated.
Another 200 were found to have had their skin “colonised” by the yeast, meaning it was poised to enter their body via wounds, catheters or other medical treatments.
To date, the microbe has been found in at least 25 British hospitals.
The PHE revelations follow the death in Chicago in February of Stephanie Spoor, 64, one of 600 Americans to be infected.
She is thought to have been infected by a contaminated catheter or intravenous tube.
“What seems to make Candida auris somewhat unique is that it spreads so easily from person to person,” said a PHE spokeswoman. “Once in the bloodstream, it circulates and multiplies, causing sepsis [blood poisoning].
“Yeast cells can also deposit in organs [liver, spleen, brain] causing abscesses, or forming vegetations on heart valves.”
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Dr David Eyre was among the team that tackled one of Britain’s biggest outbreaks of Candida auris, at John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford.
In 2017 the crisis hit 76 patients in the neurosciences intensive care unit, of whom 69 were colonised with the fungus, and seven infected.
Doctors were baffled as to the source of the infection. “We were all scratching our heads,” said Eyre. It was only when a nurse suggested investigating underarm thermometers that they found it.
There are about 30 other Candida species — some of them also pathogenic — that have collectively killed 119 Britons since 2013.
The origins of Candida auris as a pathogen are a mystery. It was first detected in the ear of a Japanese women in 2009 but subsequent studies suggest it had existed for millennia in a harmless form before suddenly evolving the ability to attack humans, a change that appears to have happened in several Far Eastern countries simultaneously.