The New York Times reports, in late 2015, Dr Johanna Rhodes, an infectious disease expert at Imperial College London, got a panicked call from the Royal Brompton Hospital, a British medical centre outside London.
C. auris had taken root there months earlier, and the hospital couldn’t clear it.
‘We have no idea where it’s coming from. We’ve never heard of it. It’s just spread like wildfire,’” Dr Rhodes said she was told.
She agreed to help the hospital identify the fungus’s genetic profile and clean it from rooms.
Under her direction, hospital workers used a special device to spray aerosolized hydrogen peroxide around a room used for a patient with C. auris, the theory being that the vapour would scour each nook and cranny.
They left the device going for a week.
Then they put a “settle plate” in the middle of the room with a gel at the bottom that would serve as a place for any surviving microbes to grow, Dr Rhodes said.
Only one organism grew back. C. auris. It was spreading, but word of it was not.
The hospital, a speciality lung and heart centre that draws wealthy patients from the Middle East and around Europe, alerted the British government and told infected patients, but made no public announcement.
“There was no need to put out a news release during the outbreak,” said Oliver Wilkinson, a spokesman for the hospital.
Dr Silke Schelenz, Royal Brompton’s infectious disease specialist, found the lack of urgency from the government and hospital in the early stages of the outbreak “very, very frustrating.”
“They obviously didn’t want to lose reputation,” Dr Schelenz said.
“It hasn't impacted our surgical outcomes.”
By the end of June 2016, a scientific paper reported “an ongoing outbreak of 50 C. auris cases” at Royal Brompton, and the hospital took an extraordinary step: It shut down its I.C.U. for 11 days, moving intensive care patients to another floor, again with no announcement.
Days later the hospital finally acknowledged to a newspaper that it had a problem.
A headline in The Daily Telegraph warned, “Intensive Care Unit Closed After Deadly New Superbug Emerges in the U.K.”
(Later research said there were eventually 72 total cases, though some patients were only carriers and were not infected by the fungus.)
Yet the issue remained little known internationally, while an even bigger outbreak had begun in Valencia, Spain, at the 992-bed Hospital Universitari i Politècnic La Fe.
There, unbeknown to the public or unaffected patients, 372 people were colonized — meaning they had the germ on their body but were not sick with it — and 85 developed bloodstream infections.
A paper in the journal Mycoses reported that 41 per cent of the infected patients died within 30 days. A statement from the hospital said it was not necessarily C. auris that killed them.
“It is very difficult to discern whether patients die from the pathogen or with it since they are patients with many underlying diseases and in very serious general condition,” the statement said.
As with Royal Brompton, the hospital in Spain did not make any public announcement. It still has not.
Coming to America In the United States
587 cases of people having contracted C. auris have been reported in the US, concentrated with 309 in New York, 104 in New Jersey and 144 in Illinois, according to the C.D.C.
The symptoms — fever, aches and fatigue — are seemingly ordinary, but when a person gets infected, particularly someone already unhealthy, such commonplace symptoms can be fatal.