Extent of fungal outbreak at Salem Health to be known next week

·2 min read
Nurses and staff care for patients in the emergency room at Salem Hospital in Salem, Oregon on Friday, Aug. 20, 2021.
Nurses and staff care for patients in the emergency room at Salem Hospital in Salem, Oregon on Friday, Aug. 20, 2021.

The extent of an outbreak of a serious fungal infection in patients at Salem Hospital will be further known next week after public health officials receive results from samples sent to a regional lab in Seattle.

Samples were collected from patients potentially exposed to Candida auris still at the hospital, as well as from individuals at up to 23 facilities that received transfer patients before a transfer stoppage from the three impacted hospital units was put into place on Dec. 25. Transfers have since resumed.

Officials with Salem Health and the Oregon Health Authority would not say how many patients might have been exposed to Candida auris, nor how many samples were collected, nor which units at the hospital are impacted.

They describe the efforts of Salem Health and OHA to stem the spread of the rare, fungal superbug as "aggressive" with broad screenings, more stringent cleaning protocols and early coordination between the hospital, state and other potentially impacted local health care facilities.

They also reiterated that Candida auris does not pose a risk to otherwise healthy individuals, although it is dangerous for patients in hospitals or nursing homes who have serious medical conditions, weakened immune systems or have tubes or lines entering their body.

"We're always concerned when we're dealing with an organism that can rapidly spread … but in the general population, it's not a concern," said Dr. Jasmin Chaudhary, medical director of Infection Prevention at Salem Health.

OHA and Salem Health announced Tuesday that two patients at the hospital had contracted Candida auris during their stays, tied to a case — the first ever found in Oregon — in a patient who had "recent international health care exposures."

The initial case was detected by Salem Health's lab Dec. 11 and confirmed by the regional lab in Seattle Dec. 17. Two already-hospitalized patients then tested positive for the infection on Dec. 23 and Dec. 27.

Since 2013, about 1,150 clinical cases of Candida auris have been identified in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control describes it as presenting a "serious global health threat," in part because it is difficult to diagnose and some strains have proven to be resistant to existing antifungal treatments.

The strain identified in Salem has so far responded well to existing treatments, the hospital said.

Chaudhary said the patient with the initial case had already been placed in "contact precautions" before Candida auris was confirmed because of the presence of another infection.

OHA and the hospital are still investigating how the other two patients contracted the fungus.

Reporter Connor Radnovich covers the Oregon Legislature and state government. Contact him at cradnovich@statesmanjournal.com or 503-399-6864, or follow him on Twitter at @CDRadnovich.

This article originally appeared on Salem Statesman Journal: Extent of fungal outbreak at Salem Health to be known next week