In the past 3 years, an alarming fungal outbreak has been growing in the United States and around the world.

Called candida auris or c. auris, this new fungal infection is becoming a real danger to the healthcare industry in particular. Because the infection can’t be easily spread from person to person the way bacteria or viruses can be, it means that most cases of infection are coming from items and objects touched by those afflicted.

And since the afflicted are going to hospitals for treatment, you’ve got yourself a potentially dangerous new vector for disease appearing in the one place that needs to be safest from it.

How do healthcare facilities prepare for this new outbreak? Are sealed medical computers one of the potential solutions? How do we fight c. auris before it can spread?

What’s the Danger of Candida Auris?

In June of 2016, the CDC released a clinical alert for U.S. healthcare industries warning them about the “global emergence of invasive infections caused by the multidrug-resistant yeast candida auris.” The Center for Disease Control and Prevention doesn’t send these kinds of alerts lightly — even in 2016, c. auris had a documented high mortality rate, a high resistance to drugs, and has, according to them, a “high potential to cause outbreaks in healthcare facilities.”

According to the CDC alert, the most common way to contract c. auris is from hospitals. Worse still, the fungus appears to be able to affect different systems and different parts of the body. Doctors have seen c. auris growing in ears, urinary tracts, open wounds, and even in the lungs, just to name a few frequent sites.

Infections by c. auris are often difficult to spot and properly diagnose, mostly due to the varied nature of the infections, the sites, and the fact that c. auris is a relatively new type of fungus. To make matters more difficult, c. auris tends to affect those with weakened immune systems — like folks in a hospital for unrelated illness, for instance.

Finally, in addition to the high mortality rate, so far c. auris has shown remarkable resistance to all common anti-fungal drugs and treatments.

How Do We Stop C. Auris?

Since all three classes of anti-fungal medication are ineffective at treating c. auris, the CDC recommends prioritizing the point of infection: namely, doubling down on cleaning and hygiene practices.

And while floors, tables, patient beds, and instruments get cleaned often and thoroughly, how often does the computer get cleaned? The keyboard? The mouse? Touchscreen equipment like medical tablets and the like tend to pass through a lot of hands, and could be a prime source for fungal spores passing from one user to another, or even growing inside the computer.

Most standard computers use fans for cooling. Fans work by pulling air from outside, venting it across the hot components, and pushing the warm air out the other side. Unfortunately, this creates a perfect breeding ground for fungus. The fans pull in the spores, the spores grow in the warm, dark environment inside the computer and create a constantly-running infection factory. And when was the last time the computer was pulled apart and disinfected inside and out? Probably never.

The Benefits of IP65 Computers

However, sealed medical computers and medical panel PCs don’t use fans for cooling. Instead, they use low-power parts and radiative cooling, meaning that fungal spores and bacteria have a harder time getting into the computer itself.

There’s also a second benefit to a purpose-built medical computer or medical tablet: they’re rated IP65. An IP65 rated computer is completely sealed from particulates and dust — which can carry fungal spores — and from direct jets of water. The water protection means that medical computers can be cleaned more often, more thoroughly, and by harsher disinfectants than an off-the-shelf model of computer. A flat front bezel means fewer nooks and crevices for fungal spores to hide.

To follow the CDC’s recommendation for fighting c. auris, regular cleaning of all surfaces, equipment, and computers is a necessity. And since c. auris appears to be tough to eradicate, the cleaning will have to be more thorough than you can safely do with most non-sealed computers and sensitive equipment.

Candida Auris is Still a Mystery

Scientists still aren’t quite sure where c. auris came from, but it has four clear strains which all appeared practically simultaneously in multiple spots around the world. Some believe it may be related to fungicides being used in crops, and c. auris coming from a natural mutation in an attempt to survive the fungicides. Others believe it may come from the fungus morphing to counter anti-fungal medication, or possibly even both.

The CDC believes that the time to stop a true outbreak in the United States (and in other countries) is still possible, but we are in a short window of time to do it. The fungus could spread at an exponential rate, which is why it’s so important to implement new and more stringent cleaning strategies for healthcare facilities as soon as possible.

An infection that got out of control at Mt. Sinai hospital, and ultimately killed the patient, spread to every part of the patient room. Hospital staff eventually had to tear out pieces of the floor and ceiling that tested positive for c. auris, in order to adequately sterilize the room. 

The only way to battle c. auris is by eliminating it from every nook and cranny.

Fighting Infections at the Source

Drugs can only go so far in fighting infections. With c. auris resisting antifungal drugs, and the appearance of superbugs that can shrug off antibiotics, it’s up to healthcare providers and medical device companies to strike disease vectors before they affect patients.

Devices like UV disinfection devices, sealed medical computers, and rugged medical tablets can all serve as the first line of defense against outbreaks like c. auris. Contact Cybernet today to learn more about implementing computers that can survive even the harshest cleaning regimens.