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Tufts University School of Medicine

Clues about a New Deadly Fungus

Microscopic image of candida auris fungus
Sunday, April 21, 2019 - 8:00pm

By Carol A. Kumamoto and Jesus A. Romo

It seems like every few years there’s a virus or bacterium that threatens human health in a new way. But a new fungus that is a threat to humans? That doesn’t happen very often. That’s why we in the medical mycology community—the people who study dangerous fungi—are so intrigued and concerned by news reports about a new, deadly fungus called Candida auris.

C. auris is believed to have been first identified in 2009 in the ear canal of a patient in Japan, but has taken the medical community by surprise with its rapid spread across the globe in the last decade. C. auris has now been detected in about twenty countries and shows no evidence of stopping.

What makes this well-traveled fungus fascinating and scary? Unlike other species of Candida, it is known to survive in hospital rooms for prolonged periods of time and is responsible for several outbreaks due to patient-to-patient transmission. The most concerning characteristic of this fungus, however, is its ability to withstand anti-fungal treatment.

We are a team of medical mycologists working at Tufts and specializing in the study of a different fungus, Candida albicans, and how it affects human health. We have been interested in C. albicans for years because its interactions with humans are so complex—sometimes it seems friendly and sometimes it is our enemy. The new fungus C. auris seems very mysterious, but we believe we can use what we have learned from studying other fungi to deal with this new organism.

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