For the first time, researchers have found traces of a “superbug”, a multidrug-resistant organism, on remote sandy beaches of India that can lead to the next deadly pandemic. In a “landmark discovery”, scientists now have clear evidence of Candida auris. Also called C auris, it is known as a “superbug” because it can resist the main anti-fungal treatments. The study was published in the journal mBio on 16 March.
Recently, an expert warned that the Covid-19 pandemic offered the “perfect conditions for widespread outbreaks” of C auris, the report said.
C auris is multi-drug resistant
A team led by Dr Anuradha Chowdhary, at the University of Delhi, studied 48 samples of soil and water collected from eight natural sites around the Andaman Islands. These included sandy beaches, rocky shores, tidal marshes, and mangrove swamps.
The researchers isolated C auris from two sites: a salt marsh wetland where virtually no people ever go, and a beach with more human activity.
It was found that C auris isolates from the beach were all multi-drug resistant and were more closely related to strains seen in hospitals compared with the isolates found in the marsh, Live Science quoted Chowdhary as saying in a statement.
Researchers observed that one isolate found in the marsh was not drug-resistant and grew more slowly at high temperatures compared with the other isolates, suggesting that this isolate could be a “wilder” strain of C auris.
This isolate might be the one that hadn’t yet adapted to the high body temperatures of humans and other mammals, said Dr. Arturo Casadevall, chair of the Department of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore.
However, the study still does not prove that C auris naturally live on the Andaman Islands, or that it originated there.
It’s possible that the microbe could have been introduced by people, particularly at the beach site that had more human activity, Live Science reported.
Symptoms of disease caused by C auris
The infections caused by this “superbug” can show “no symptoms before turning into a fever and chills”. These symptoms won’t go away despite the use of medicines and can lead to death, the Sun reported.
C auris survives on the skin before entering the body through wounds. Once in the bloodstream, it causes severe illness and can lead to sepsis — a condition that kills up to 11 million people a year globally, the World Health Organisation said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the US health body, said the microbe can cause serious bloodstream infections, especially in patients who require catheters, feeding tubes or breathing tubes.
“This infection can be difficult to treat because the microbe is often resistant to multiple antifungal drugs; and it can also linger on environmental surfaces,” Live Science reported.
How this C auris spreads is still a mystery to scientists. However, researchers have previously hypothesized that increased temperatures due to climate change may have caused C auris to adapt to higher temperatures in the wild, and thus allowed the fungus to make the jump to humans, whose normal body temperature is typically too hot for most fungi to survive.
The infection has reached all corners of the world where it is “spreading like wildfire”, suggesting that it does spread via human contact, the Sun reported.
C auris was discovered in hospitals around the world about a decade ago. This mysterious “superbug” is a fungus that was first discovered in 2009 in a patient in Japan.
Around 270 people in the United Kingdom have been diagnosed with this infection until 2019, the report cited data from Public Health England.
Also, eight people have died, however, the report said, it was not possible to attribute the deaths directly to the fungus.
“It’s a medical mystery, where did it come from,” Dr. Arturo Casadevall said.
The new findings are “a very important part of the puzzle,” Casadevall told Live Science.
Can C auris bring the next pandemic?
A report by Dr Donald Sheppard, a professor of microbiology at McGill University, Canada, in 2020, said there is evidence C auris is present in the UK because the fungus had been found in the foot ulcers of people with diabetes in London, which has also been reported in India.
There have been random cases of the fungus emerging usually in people who have travelled to the UK from areas C auris is more prevalent, with multiple introductions from Asia and Africa.
The report said patients with C auris remain infected possibly forever, “suggests this emerging nosocomial pathogen is likely here to stay”.
In view of the coronavirus pandemic, scientists have now shifted focus on investigating pathogens that might cause the next deadly pandemic.
“If this idea gets validated, we need to start mapping out more of these pathogens that are out there so we don’t get surprised, as we got surprised by the new coronavirus,” Casadevall said.