How Scripps, UCLA Health nipped spread of deadly fungus at start of pandemic

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Two healthcare organizations in Southern California implemented comprehensive efforts to prevent the spread of a deadly fungus amid the early days of the pandemic, according to two case studies presented June 29 at the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology's virtual annual conference.

La Jolla, Calif.-based Scripps Memorial Hospital received San Diego County's first known Candida auris case during the pandemic's first surge in March 2020. The patient was hospitalized and in isolation for 47 days. During this time, the hospital implemented aggressive cleaning measures in all patient rooms and conducted routine surveillance testing to ensure the fungal infection did not spread.

After C. auris cases started to surge in Southern California in summer 2020, Los Angeles-based UCLA Health created a multilevel notification system to identify potential cases early and prevent transmission. Infection preventionists and the system's health IT team set up its EMR system to screen every new patient for COVID-19 and C. auris. The system flagged high-risk patients for testing at its in-house lab and triggered reminders about strict cleaning protocols for C. auris patients' rooms, among other capabilities.

"The fact that these two teams recognized this threat and were able to mobilize so quickly and effectively while also on high alert for COVID is remarkable," Ann Marie Pettis, RN and president of the association said in a news release. "Their case studies demonstrate how important it is that hospitals, clinics and long-term care facilities have enough infection preventionists and resources to train staff and monitor safety protocols so they can prevent harm on multiple fronts."

C. auris is an emerging fungus that causes severe or even fatal infections. It is difficult to detect with standard laboratory methods and resistant to most antifungal drugs, according to the CDC.  The virus has infected nearly 1,800 people in 15 states and Washington, D.C., since it was first found in the U.S. in 2015.

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