- Devices used to measure armpit temperature are a likely source of Candida auris
- It is resistant to most anti-fungal drugs and hit more than 200 British patients
- The fungus has spread to 55 hospitals since coming to the UK five years ago
A dangerous Japanese fungus which has swept through British hospital wards and infected patients may have been spread by thermometers.
Experts believe the devices, used to measure armpit temperature and shared between patients, are a likely source of Candida auris.
It is resistant to all the main anti-fungal drugs and has affected more than 200 British patients.
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Candida auris is a fungus from the same family as the Candida bacteria (pictured under the microscope that causes thrush – but it can get into the bloodstream, causing serious and invasive infections
First identified in the ear canal of a woman in Japan and likened to a ‘superbug’, the fungus has spread to at least 55 hospitals since coming to the UK five years ago.
Researchers investigated one of the largest outbreaks, between February 2015 and August last year, in an intensive care unit at Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust.
Equipment including thermometers used to monitor some patients was identified as a major source.
These thermometers had been used in 86 per cent of patients – or 57 out of 66 – who were admitted to the unit and diagnosed with C. auris.
While none died as a result of the infection, it can be fatal or cause major disabilities in those whose immune system is compromised.
Dr David Eyre, who led the study from the Nuffield Department of Medicine at the University of Oxford, said: ‘Despite a bundle of infection control interventions, the outbreak was only controlled following removal of the temperature probes.’
Health chiefs ordered wards to be deep- cleaned and patients isolated at the height of an epidemic of the fungus last year.
Public Health England warned the three worst outbreaks ‘proved difficult to control despite intensive infection prevention’.
The Oxford outbreak was eventually overcome. Researchers analysed 70 patients who were either colonised with C. auris – meaning they had the fungus but showed no signs of illness – or infected, meaning they did show symptoms.
Of these, 94 per cent were already in intensive care before being diagnosed and seven patients developed invasive infections.
One person died, but not directly as a result of a C. auris infection.
The fungus, which is on the rise in Britain, was rarely detected in the general environment of the intensive care unit but was successfully grown from samples taken from medical equipment and temperature probes.
The fungus from this multiple-use equipment matched that in samples from the patients.
According to the results, presented at the 28th European Congress of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases, most patients were colonised for one to two months.