Two Oklahoma hospitals fought off deadly fungal ‘superbug’

It wasn’t publicized locally, but within the past few years, teams of health officials at two Oklahoma health facilities took rapid actions to contain the spread of a fungal “superbug” that federal officials have declared a serious global health threat.

Only one patient at each facility was infected, and both patients recovered. But the incidents reflect the growing alarm among health officials over the deadly, multidrug-resistant Candida auris, or C. auris, which can kill 30% to 60% of those infected.

Oklahoma is one of 12 states that had reported confirmed cases of the fungus by late February. By comparison, Texas reported one and California two. The problem is much more severe in New York, with 309 confirmed cases, and Illinois, with 144.

In April 2017, a team of experts from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention converged on the University of Oklahoma Medical Center in Oklahoma City after a patient tested positive for the drug-resistant fungus.

About a year later, a patient at a southeast Oklahoma health facility tested positive for the germ during a routine test. In both cases, health officials isolated the patients, locked down their rooms and ordered dozens of lab tests to see if the fungus had spread.

Unlike with outbreaks in Illinois, New York and New Jersey, the potentially deadly infection was quickly contained.

But the two cases highlight the risks of C. auris, a germ that worried the CDC enough to issue a clinical alert in 2016 for all U.S. health care facilities to be on the lookout for suspected cases. State and local health officials say its emergence in Oklahoma is a reminder that hospitals, health clinics and even nursing homes need to be aware of the emerging threat.

“It’s hard to speculate on what we may or may not see in the future,” said Interim State Epidemiologist Laurence Burnsed. “But the important thing is to be aware of the challenges trying to limit transmission and risk.”

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