Just What Do You Know About Gonorrhea?

By Rodney E. Rohde, PhD, MS, SM(ASCP)CM SVCM, MBCM, FACSc

This column originally appeared in the August 2020 issue of Healthcare Hygiene magazine.

In the most recent publication of CDC’s Antibiotic Resistance Threats in the United States, 2019 (2019 AR Threats Report) the latest national death and infection estimates underscore the continued threat of antibiotic resistance in the United States. Did you know that there are 2.8 million antibiotic-resistant infections in the U.S. each year, and more than 35,000 people die as a result? While many of us have heard about MRSA and other more common antimicrobial threats, most people do not realize that Neisseria gonorrhoeae belongs to this threat category. This bug causes gonorrhea, a sexually transmitted disease (STD) that can result in life-threatening ectopic pregnancy and infertility, and can increase the risk of getting and giving HIV.

N. gonorrhoeae and Neisseria meningitidis are genetically very closely related human pathogens. The genus Neisseria is composed of 17 species that may be isolated from humans and 6 species that colonize various animals. The Neisseriaceae are a family of Beta Proteobacteria consisting of Gram-negative aerobic bacteria from multiple genera, including Neisseria, Chromobacterium, Kingella, and others. While there are numerous commensals in this genus, N. gonorrhoeae causes gonorrhea, and N. meningitidis is the cause of meningococcal meningitis. N. gonorrhoeae infections have a high prevalence and low mortality, whereas N. meningitidis infections have a low prevalence and high mortality.

Unlike several of my past month’s articles in which I discussed bugs that are typically found in the natural environment, N. gonorrhoeae has no reservoir outside of humans. N. gonorrhoeae also known as gonococcus (singular), or gonococci (plural) is a species of Gram-negative diplococci bacteria isolated by Albert Neisser in 1879. Most members of this genus are fastidious and require nutrient supplementation to be cultured in the laboratory. Neisseria spp. are facultatively intracellular and typically appear in pairs (diplococci) which classically look like coffee beans in a gram stain. They do not form endospores and are capable of twitching motility. They are obligate aerobes (requires oxygen to grow) which must be considered for culture.

How common is gonorrhea?
This disease, unfortunately, is very common. CDC estimates that approximately 1.14 million new gonococcal infections occur in the United States each year and as many as half occur among young people aged 15-24. In 2018, 583,405 cases of gonorrhea were reported to CDC. It is a STD via infection of the mucous membranes of the reproductive tract, including the cervix, uterus, and fallopian tubes in women, and the urethra in women and men. N. gonorrhoeae can also infect the mucous membranes of the mouth, throat, eyes, and rectum. Importantly, a mother can give the infection to her baby as the baby passes through the birth canal during delivery sometimes causing blindness.
How is gonorrhea diagnosed?

This STD bug, historically was diagnosed by traditional microbiology tests, including oxidase positive (possessing cytochrome c oxidase) and catalase positive (able to convert hydrogen peroxide to oxygen) as well as by its ability oxidize only glucose (negative for the other carbohydrates lactose, maltose, and sucrose). However, in today’s microbiology world this drug resistant STD is most commonly rapidly diagnosed by a molecular test.

Urogenital gonorrhea can be diagnosed by testing urine, urethral (for men), or endocervical or vaginal (for women) specimens using nucleic acid amplification testing (NAAT). It can also be diagnosed using gonorrhea culture, which requires endocervical or urethral swab specimens.

If a person has had oral and/or anal sex, pharyngeal and/or rectal swab specimens should be collected either for culture or for NAAT (if the local laboratory has validated the use of NAAT for extra-genital specimens).

What do you need to know about antibiotic resistance?
Gonorrhea has quickly developed resistance to all but one class of antibiotics, and half of all infections are resistant to at least one antibiotic. Tests to detect resistance are not always available at time of treatment. Gonorrhea rapidly develops resistance to antibiotics—ceftriaxone is the last recommended treatment. Gonorrhea spreads easily. Some men and most women are asymptomatic and may not know they are infected, increasing spread. Due to this growing problem, clinicians and patients should seek out information on treatment regimens.

How can gonorrhea be prevented?
• Latex condoms, when used consistently and correctly, can reduce the risk of transmission of gonorrhea
• Abstain from vaginal, anal, and oral sex
• Long-term mutually monogamous relationship with a partner who has been tested and is known to be uninfected

Healthcare providers with STD consultation requests can contact the STD Clinical Consultation Network (STDCCN). This service is provided by the National Network of STD Clinical Prevention Training Centers and operates five days a week. STDCCN is convenient, simple, and free to healthcare providers and clinicians. More information is available at www.stdccn.org

While not traditionally found in the natural environment, we must all continue to work to help fight this antibiotic resistant organism with respect to its overall impact on the growing global antimicrobial resistance threat.

Rodney E. Rohde, PhD, MS, SM(ASCP)CM SVCM, MBCM, FACSc, serves as chair and professor of the Clinical Laboratory Science Program at Texas State; associate director for the Translational Health Research Initiative; as well as associate dean for research in the College of Health Professions. Follow him on Twitter @RodneyRohde / @TXST_CLS, or on his website: http://rodneyerohde.wp.txstate.edu/

(Bio)filming in the Environment

By Rodney E. Rohde, PhD, MS, SM(ASCP)CM SVCM, MBCM, FACSc

This column originally appeared in the July 2020 issue of Healthcare Hygiene magazine.

The Pseudomonads include many “true” Pseudomonas species as well as several other genera formerly classified with this group. Over 100 species once made up the genus Pseudomonas but in the past decade or so, many of these have been reclassified into other genera. Like last month’s bug, Acinetobacter, the bacteria found in this group are typically associated as natural residents of soil and water. They rarely cause infections in healthy people. However, there are several groups within the Pseudomonads that can cause medical problems, including the fluorescent Pseudomonas spp., Burkholderia spp., Brevundimonas spp., Stenotrophomonas maltophilia, and other less frequent ones occasionally found in clinical specimens and the hospital environment.

Pseudomonas aeruginosa is the most common infection-causing species and are usually encapsulated, Gram-negative, rod-shaped bacterium that can cause disease in plants and animals, including humans. P. aeruginosa is an opportunistic species especially with existing diseases or conditions – most notably cystic fibrosis (CF) and traumatic burns. It generally affects the immunocompromised but can also infect the immunocompetent as in hot tub folliculitis. Treatment of P. aeruginosa infections can be difficult due to its natural resistance to antibiotics.

This organism is notorious for its survival in all types of man-made and artificial environments. It can live in diverse atmospheres at normal or low oxygen levels. It is most famous for thriving in moist environments and subsequent colonization of surfaces via extensive biofilm production. In cases of human infection, its versatility enables the organism to infect damaged tissues or those with reduced immunity. Inflammation (general) and sepsis are common symptoms.

Colonization in critical body organs, such as the lungs, the urinary tract, and kidneys, can be fatal. CF patients will often deal with life-threatening “blue-green” phlegm from lung infections while burn victims will also exhibit the common pigmented skin infection.

In 2017, multidrug-resistant Pseudomonas aeruginosa caused an estimated 32,600 infections among hospitalized patients and 2,700 estimated deaths in the United States [Source: 2019 AR Threats Report]. Like many of the microbes I have discussed in my column, this one is considered a healthcare-associated infection (HAIs).

Here, I will introduce P. aeruginosa and information aimed at a general understanding of the characteristics of this pathogen in the environment. Primarily, I will utilize information obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention along with professional experience.

Those most at risk include patients in hospitals, especially those:
• CF patients
• on breathing machines (ventilators)
• with devices such as catheters
• with wounds from surgery or burns are in intensive care units
• premature infants and neutropenic cancer patients
• urinary tract infections (UTI)
• have prolonged hospital stays

Infection can be increased by many factors, including prior antibiotic exposure, ICU admission, use of a central venous catheter, and mechanical ventilation or hemodialysis use. P. aeruginosa can be transmitted to patients because of their persistence on environmental surfaces and because of biofilms on medical devices and equipment. As I have often mentioned, all #SurfacesMatter all the time, to everyone in the war on pathogen transmission. Pseudomonas spp. can live for long periods on environmental surfaces and shared equipment if they are not properly cleaned and disinfected.

Pseudomonas aeruginosa lives in the environment and can be spread to people in healthcare settings when they are exposed to water or soil that is contaminated with these germs. Resistant strains of the germ can also spread in healthcare settings from one person to another through contaminated hands, equipment, or surfaces. Recently, research has shown that this organism (and others) can create problematic, long-standing biofilms in sink drains and other water based environmental areas and surfaces.

Pseudomonas aeruginosa infections are generally treated with antibiotics. Unfortunately, in people exposed to healthcare settings like hospitals or nursing homes, Pseudomonas aeruginosa infections are becoming more difficult to treat because of increasing antibiotic resistance.

Depending on the nature of infection (UTI, soft skin, etc.), an appropriate specimen is collected and sent to a medical laboratory for identification. Typically, a Gram stain is performed, which should show Gram-negative “thin long” rods and/or white blood cells. P. aeruginosa produces colonies with a characteristic "grape-like" or "fresh-tortilla" odor on some growth media. In mixed cultures, it can be isolated as clear colonies on MacConkey agar (as it does not ferment lactose) which will test positive for oxidase. Confirmatory tests include production of the blue-green pigment pyocyanin on cetrimide agar and growth at 42°C. A Triple Sugar Iron slant is often used to distinguish non-fermenting Pseudomonas species from enteric pathogens.

Following identification and to specify the best antibiotic(s) to treat P. aeruginosa infections, the laboratory will perform an antibiotic susceptibility test which allows for growth against a set of antibiotics to determine which are active against the bacteria. The best antibiotic(s) is then chosen based on the activity of the antibiotic and other factors, like potential side effects or interactions with other drugs. For some multidrug-resistant types of Pseudomonas aeruginosa, treatment options might be limited.

How you can avoid getting an infection:
• Hand hygiene from healthcare professionals and patients (and others)
• Wash hands with soap and water or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer, particularly before and after caring for wounds or touching medical devices
• Allow environmental services (housekeeping staff) and healthcare staff to clean their room daily when in a healthcare setting

Rodney E. Rohde, PhD, MS, SM(ASCP)CM SVCM, MBCM, FACSc, serves as chair and professor of the Clinical Laboratory Science Program at Texas State; associate director for the Translational Health Research Initiative; as well as associate dean for research in the College of Health Professions. Follow him on Twitter @RodneyRohde / @TXST_CLS, or on his website: http://rodneyerohde.wp.txstate.edu/

Tuberculosis: It Keeps On Keeping On

By Rodney E. Rohde, PhD, MS, SM(ASCP)CM SVCM, MBCM, FACSc

This column originally appeared in the June 2020 issue of Healthcare Hygiene magazine.

Tuberculosis is an ancient disease that infects about a third of our global population, and each year we see almost 9 million new cases. Mycobacterium is a genus of bacteria in the family Mycobacteriaceae with over 190 species. The genus is well known for two notorious species, M. tuberculosis (M. tb) and M. leprae (leprosy), as well as other species causing disease in mammals. Robert Koch, who received the Nobel Prize for his finding in 1905, first described M. tuberculosis, then known as the “tubercle bacillus”, in 1882.

The genus is characterized by an acid-fast, aerobic bacillus with a high cell wall content of high-molecular-weight lipids known as mycolic acid. A Gram stain will not penetrate these organisms due to this waxy mycolic acid, and as a result, they can appear Gram-negative or Gram-positive. Acid-fast stains such as Ziehl-Neelsen, or fluorescent stains such as auramine are used to identify the characteristic thin long curved rods that often exhibit “cording” (rods / bacilli wrapped around each other) morphology under microscopy. M. tuberculosis can be cultured in the laboratory on Middlebrook or Lowenstein Jensen media but they are considered slow growers. These bacteria divide about every 18–24 hours whereas other common bacteria (E. coli) divide about every 20 minutes. Visible colonies require weeks (3 – 8) for growth and can be distinguished from other mycobacteria by production of catalase and niacin. However, more rapid and accurate differentiation is obtained with MALDI-TOF or other molecular platforms.

Humans are the only known reservoir for Mycobacterium tuberculosis [prounounced mī-kō-bak-ˈtir-ē-əm \ too-bur-kyuh-loh-sis]. Historically, this microbe targets the lungs but TB bacteria can attack any part of the body such as the kidney, spine, and brain. It gets its name from the Latin word tuber, which is a botanical term for an underground structure consisting of a solid rounded outgrowth of a stem of a more or less rounded form. The tubercle is a diminutive of tuber and comes from the Latin, tuberculum, or a small swelling. Thus, tuberculosis is the condition of patients exhibiting small, round, firm and white swellings on the surface or within an organ, usually the lungs. Those infected with M. tuberculosis do not always become sick. Therefore, two TB-related conditions exist: latent TB infection (LTBI) and TB disease. Tuberculosis can be fatal if not treated properly.

Many believe that casual contact like shaking hands, touching bed linens or sitting on toilet seats, sharing food or drink, or kissing, can spread M. tuberculosis. However, this agent is an airborne organism originating from a person with TB disease and transmits it by coughing, sneezing, speaking, or singing. When in the lungs, M. tuberculosis is phagocytosed by alveolar macrophages, but they are unable to kill and digest the bacterium (intracellular). Treatment of TB infections has become difficult due to antibiotic resistance. Multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) indicates resistance to both isoniazid and rifampin. Extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis (XDR-TB) indicates resistance to isoniazid, rifampin, a fluoroquinolone, and a second-line injectable drug.

In 2019, there are 8,920 provisionally reported TB cases in the United States (a rate of 2.7 per 100,000 persons). The complete 2019 TB surveillance data report will be available in late 2020. There are 60 jurisdictions (states, cities, and US territories) in the United States that report TB data to the CDC. It is estimated that up to 13 million people in the United States are living with latent TB infection. Like many of the microbes I have discussed in my column, this one is considered a healthcare-associated infection (HAIs). Here, I will introduce M. tuberculosis and information aimed at a general understanding of the characteristics of this pathogen in the environment. Primarily, I will utilize information obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention along with professional experience.

What are the common signs and symptoms for TB?
Those with TB disease will show symptoms that align with where in the body the TB bacteria are growing. TB bacteria usually grow in the lungs (pulmonary TB). TB disease in the lungs may cause symptoms such as
• persistent bad coughs (3 weeks or longer)
• chest pains
• coughing up blood or sputum (phlegm from deep inside the lungs)

Other symptoms of TB disease are
• weakness or fatigue
• weight loss
• loss of appetite
• chills / fever
• night sweats

Symptoms of TB disease in other parts of the body depend on the area affected. Those with latent TB do not feel sick, do not have any symptoms, and cannot spread TB to others.

Who is most at risk for these infections? Tuberculosis is an ongoing globally challenging disease to diagnose, treat, and control. While anyone can be infected by this bacteria, those individuals with health disparities and who are part of certain populations should be targeted with prevention and control efforts. These groups include, but are not limited to:
• African-American Community
• Asian Community
• Children under 15 years of age (also called pediatric tuberculosis)
• Correctional Facilities
• Hispanics/Latinos
• Homelessness
• International Travelers
• Pregnancy
• Health Disparities in TB (gender, race or ethnicity, income, comorbid medical conditions, or geographic location may be considered).

Generally, persons at high risk for developing TB disease fall into two categories: 1. Persons recently infected with TB bacteria, and 2. Persons with medical conditions that weaken the immune system (e.g. HIV, drug abuse, Diabetes mellitus, organ transplants, cancer, autoimmune diseases, etc.).

The majority of mycobacteria species are found in the environment across a range of soil types and water distribution systems, which act as a reservoir for potential human and animal infection. Due to its cell wall richness in lipids such as mycolic acid, M. tuberculosis is inherently resistant to desiccation and is a key virulence factor. It can withstand weak disinfectants and survive without moisture for weeks. As I have often mentioned, all #SurfacesMatter all the time, to everyone in the war on pathogen transmission. Mycobacterium spp. can live for long periods on environmental surfaces and shared equipment if they are not properly cleaned and disinfected.

Rodney E. Rohde, PhD, MS, SM(ASCP)CM SVCM, MBCM, FACSc, serves as chair and professor of the Clinical Laboratory Science Program at Texas State; associate director for the Translational Health Research Initiative; as well as associate dean for research in the College of Health Professions. Follow him on Twitter @RodneyRohde / @TXST_CLS, or on his website: http://rodneyerohde.wp.txstate.edu/

The Environment Can Be a Dangerous Place

By Rodney E. Rohde, PhD, MS, SM(ASCP)CM SVCM, MBCM, FACSc

Editor's note: This column originally appeared in the May 2020 issue of Healthcare Hygiene magazine.

Comprising about 50 species, Acinetobacter are mostly nonpathogenic environmental organisms. They are common in places like the soil and water. The most common infection-causing species is A. baumannii (pronounced AH-sin-neto-bacter) which is a pleomorphic aerobic gram-negative bacillus. These bacteria cause infections in the blood, urinary tract, and lungs (pneumonia), or in wounds in other parts of the body. It can also “colonize” or live in a patient without causing infections or symptoms, especially in respiratory secretions (sputum) or open wounds.

In 2017, Carbapenem-resistant Acinetobacter baumannii (CRAB) caused an estimated 8,500 infections in hospitalized patients and 700 estimated deaths in the U.S. They constantly find new ways to avoid antibiotics used to treat the infections they cause. Antibiotic resistance occurs when the germs no longer respond to the antibiotics designed to kill them. If they develop resistance to the group of antibiotics called carbapenems, they become carbapenem-resistant. When resistant to multiple antibiotics, they are multidrug-resistant. Carbapenem-resistant Acinetobacter are usually multidrug-resistant. Like last month’s column on Clostridioides difficile (C. diff), CRAB is considered a healthcare associated infections (HAIs).

Which patients are at increased risk for A. baumannii (CRAB)? Acinetobacter infections typically occur in people in healthcare settings. People most at risk include patients in hospitals, especially those who:
• are on breathing machines (ventilators)
• have devices such as catheters
• have open wounds from surgery
• are in intensive care units
• have prolonged hospital stays

Acinetobacter infection can be increased by many factors, including prior antibiotic exposure, ICU admission, use of a central venous catheter, and mechanical ventilation or hemodialysis use. Acinetobacter species can be transmitted to patients because of their persistence on environmental surfaces and because of colonization of the hands of healthcare workers. As I have often mentioned, all #SurfacesMatter all the time, to everyone in the war on pathogen transmission. Acinetobacter can live for long periods on environmental surfaces and shared equipment if they are not properly cleaned and disinfected.

Where is this microbe found? Are there special environmental niches for it?
A. baumannii is an aquatic organism and preferentially colonizes those environments. This organism is often cultured from hospitalized patients' sputum or respiratory secretions, wounds, and urine. In a hospital setting, Acinetobacter commonly colonizes irrigating solutions and intravenous solutions.
When these infections occur, they usually involve (multi-) organ systems with a high fluid content (e.g., urinary tract, respiratory tract, peritoneal fluid, CSF, etc.). Outbreaks from these infections are more often than isolated cases of nosocomial pneumonia. Infections may complicate continuous ambulatory peritoneal dialysis (CAPD) or cause catheter-associated bacteriuria.

What are the differences between colonization and infection?
Acinetobacter species tend to be of low virulence but capable of causing infection in organ transplants and febrile neutropenia. Most isolates recovered from hospitalized patients, particularly those recovered from respiratory secretions and urine, represent colonization rather than infection. Thus, one must exercise caution in determining whether the isolate is due to colonization or is a true infection. As an example, Acinetobacter isolated from the sputum of a ventilated patient is more likely to represent colonization than infection in the absence of fever, leukocytosis, increased respiratory secretions, need for additional respiratory support, or a new abnormality on chest imaging. The difference is critical for proper antibiotic stewardship.

Which laboratory tests are commonly used for diagnosis?
To identify the best antibiotic to treat a specific infection, healthcare providers will send a specimen to the medical laboratory for a typical culture workup and test any bacteria that grow against a set of antibiotics (antibiotic susceptibility test) to determine which are active against the microbe.

How can you avoid getting an infection?
• Hand hygiene: healthcare professionals and patients (and others) must keep their hands clean to avoid getting sick and spreading germs that can cause infections
• Wash hands with soap and water or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer, particularly before and after caring for wounds or touching medical devices
• Remind healthcare providers and caregivers to clean their hands before touching the patient or handling medical devices
• Allow environmental services (housekeeping staff) and healthcare staff to clean their room daily when in a healthcare setting

In addition to hand hygiene, healthcare providers should pay careful attention to recommended infection control practices, including rigorous environmental cleaning (e.g., cleaning of patient rooms and shared equipment), to reduce the risk of spreading these germs to patient. As a final reminder, environmental services professionals (and others who have responsibility for cleaning / disinfection) are the secret weapon in proactive prevention of antibiotic resistant and other pathogen transmission.

Rodney E. Rohde, PhD, MS, SM(ASCP)CM SVCM, MBCM, FACSc, serves as chair and professor of the Clinical Laboratory Science Program at Texas State; associate director for the Translational Health Research Initiative; as well as associate dean for research in the College of Health Professions. Follow him on Twitter @RodneyRohde / @TXST_CLS, or on his website: http://rodneyerohde.wp.txstate.edu/

Exactly What is Clostridioides difficile (C. diff)?

By Rodney E. Rohde, PhD, MS, SM(ASCP)CM SVCM, MBCM, FACSc

This column originally appeared in the April 2020 issue of Healthcare Hygiene magazine.

Clostridioides difficile (C. diff) is a bacterium that can cause symptoms ranging from diarrhea to life-threatening inflammation of the colon. It is a spore forming, Gram-positive anaerobic (does not prefer oxygen rich environments) bacillus that produces two exotoxins: toxin A and toxin B. Illness from C. diff. commonly affects the elderly in hospitals or long-term care facilities and typically occurs after use of antibiotics. However, studies show increasing rates of C. diff. infection among people traditionally not considered to be at high risk, such as young and healthy individuals who haven't used antibiotics or been in a health care facility. Generally, C. diff. considered a healthcare-associated infection (HAI).

Each year in the U.S., about a half million people get sick from C. diff., and in recent years, these infections have become more frequent, severe and difficult to treat. Recurrent C. diff. infections also are on the rise. It is a common cause of antibiotic-associated diarrhea (AAD). It accounts for 15 percent to 25 percent of all episodes of AAD. The range of diseases caused by this bacterium is known as C. diff. Infection (CDI).

In my personal experience of discussing HAIs, antibiotic resistant pathogens, and other microbes that are transmitted in the healthcare or community setting, I often try to put myself in the place of an individual that little experience or understanding of these pathogens. Effective science communication, and ultimately raising the health literacy of the public, is everyone’s job in healthcare.

Here, I will introduce C. diff. and information aimed at a general understanding of the characteristics of this pathogen in the environment. Primarily, I will utilize information obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), along with professional experience.

Which patients are at increased risk for CDI? The risk for disease increases in patients with:
• antibiotic exposure (e.g., fluoroquinolones, third/fourth generation cephalosporins, clindamycin, carbapenems)
• gastrointestinal surgery/manipulation
• long length of stay in healthcare settings
• a serious underlying illness
• immunocompromising conditions
• advanced age
• other possible causes include Proton pump inhibitors, H2-blockers

Where is C. diff. found and what are the causes of CDI?
C. diff. bacteria are ubiquitous in the environment — in soil, air, water, human and animal feces, and food products, such as processed meats. A small number of healthy people naturally carry the bacteria (colonized) in their large intestines and do not have ill effects from the infection.

Spores from C. diff. are passed in feces and spread all over the environment (food, surfaces and objects) when people who are infected do not wash their hands thoroughly. Spores are primarily a way for bacteria to survive in harsh times or conditions. They persist for weeks or months. If you touch a surface contaminated with C. diff. spores, you may not realize you’ve swallowed the spore which can then become a viable bacteria.

Once established, C. difficile can produce toxins that attack the lining of the intestine. The toxins destroy cells, produce patches (plaques) of inflammatory cells and decaying cellular debris inside the colon, and cause watery diarrhea.

What are the differences between colonization and infection?
Colonization is more common than CDI. The patient exhibits no clinical symptoms (asymptomatic) but does test positive for the C. diff. organism or its toxin. With infection, the patient exhibits clinical symptoms and tests positive for the C. diff. organism or its toxin. The difference is critical with respect to understanding when an individual should be considered positive for CDI (confirmatory medical laboratory test AND clinical symptoms).

Which laboratory tests are commonly used for diagnosis?
Most people are not experts in the world (or language) of medical laboratory tests. The following is a list of common tests that are often utilized in a medical or public health laboratory to identify C. diff. and many pathogens. If you do not understand a test, ALWAYS ask for clarification. This will increase your health literacy.
• Molecular tests: FDA-approved PCR assays, which test for the gene encoding toxin B, are same-day tests that are highly sensitive and specific for presence toxin-producing C. diff.
• Antigen detection for C. diff: Rapid tests (<1 hour) that detect the presence of C. diff. antigen. Nonspecific and often used in combination with other tests.
• Toxin testing for C. diff:
o Tissue culture cytotoxicity assay detects toxin B only.
o Enzyme immunoassay detects toxin A, toxin B, or both A and B. Due to concerns over toxin A-negative, B-positive strains causing disease, most laboratories employ a toxin B-only or A and B assay.
o C. diff. toxin is unstable. The toxin degrades at room temperature and might be undetectable within two hours after collection of a stool specimen. False-negative results occur when specimens are not promptly tested or kept refrigerated.
• Stool culture for C. diff: Most sensitive test available, but it is often associated with false-positive results due to the presence of nontoxigenic C. diff. strains.

Rodney E. Rohde, PhD, MS, SM(ASCP)CM SVCM, MBCM, FACSc, serves as chair and professor of the Clinical Laboratory Science Program at Texas State; associate director for the Translational Health Research Initiative; as well as associate dean for research in the College of Health Professions. Follow him on Twitter @RodneyRohde / @TXST_CLS, or on his website: http://rodneyerohde.wp.txstate.edu/

Uncovering the Novel Coronavirus

By Rodney E. Rohde, PhD, MS, SM(ASCP)CM SVCM, MBCM, FACSc

Editor's note: This column originally appeared in the March 2020 issue of Healthcare Hygiene magazine.

Novel outbreaks from any microbe are always of public health concern. The risk from these outbreaks depends on characteristics of the virus, including whether and how well it spreads between people, the severity of resulting illness, and the medical or other measures available to control the impact of the virus (e.g., vaccine or antivirals).

The novel coronavirus (SARS CoV2/COVID-19) is a serious public health threat. The fact that it has caused severe illness and sustained person-to-person spread in China is concerning, but it is unclear how the situation in other parts of the world will unfold.

With the growing concern over COVID-19, exactly what questions should healthcare professionals and others (EVS, medical laboratory, etc.) be asking.
1. How does SARS CoV2 spread? While there is much to learn regarding the transmission of this novel virus, spread is thought to occur from person-to-person via respiratory droplets among close contacts. Close contact can occur while caring for a patient, including:
• Being within 6 feet (2 meters) of a patient with COVID-19 for prolonged time periods.
• Direct contact with infectious secretions from a patient with 2019-nCoV. Infectious secretions may include sputum, serum, blood, and respiratory droplets.
If close contact occurs while not wearing all recommended PPE, there may be risk of infection.

2. How long (duration) can 2019-nCoV survive outside of a host? All viruses require a host to reproduce and survive. It is currently unclear if a person can get SARS CoV2 by touching a surface or object with virus on it and then touching his or her own mouth, nose, or their eyes. Some reports show coronavirus strains (229E) have survived more than three hours after drying onto porous and non-porous materials, including aluminum and sterile sponges; strain OC43 remained infectious up to one hour. Thus, it is prudent to remain vigilant in both the use of PPE and disinfection of surfaces in the control of SARS CoV2.

3. How can healthcare personnel (and other related professionals) protect themselves? According to the CDC, healthcare personnel caring for patients with confirmed or possible COVID-19 should adhere to CDC recommendations for infection prevention and control (IPC):
• Assess and triage patients with acute respiratory symptoms and risk factors to minimize chances of exposure, including use of facemasks on the patient and isolating them in an Airborne Infection Isolation Room (AIIR), if available.
• Use Standard Precautions, Contact Precautions, and Airborne Precautions and eye protection when caring for patients.
• Perform hand hygiene with alcohol-based handrub before and after all patient contact, contact with potentially infectious material, and before putting on and upon removal of personal protective equipment (PPE), including gloves.
• Practice proper use PPE in a manner to prevent self-contamination.
• Perform aerosol-generating procedures, including collection of diagnostic respiratory specimens, in an AIIR, while following IPC practices, including use of appropriate PPE.

4. What about environmental cleaning and disinfection? CDC states routine cleaning and disinfection procedures are appropriate for COVID-19 in healthcare settings. Products with EPA-approved emerging viral pathogens claims are recommended. Management of laundry, food service utensils, and medical waste should be performed in accordance with routine procedures.

5. What do we currently know about the human-to-human transmission of this novel coronavirus? More specifically, once one person is infected, does the coronavirus appear to be significantly contagious in a human-to-human context? The modes of human-to-human transmission of the virus are still being determined, but given current evidence, it is most likely spread by the following, according to the CDC.
• Through the air by coughing and sneezing
• Close personal contact, such as touching or shaking hands
• Touching an object or surface with the virus on it, then touching your mouth, nose or eyes before washing your hands
• In rare cases, fecal contamination

With current data available and my professional experience, I do not believe this novel virus is any more contagious than the influenza virus. At this time, both appear to have similar transmission rates (1.4 – 4) and case fatality rates (currently holding steady at about 2 percent). Of course, this could change, and it is why we must monitor the outbreak closely and rely on “confirmed and accurate” laboratory test results.

Everyone should pay attention to reputable sources and heed the advice of the government and public health experts. The U.S. Department of State has issued a level 4 “do not travel” advisory for China. Proper perspective is critical. There is no need to panic. We should all do our part in not becoming part of the problem as a “super-spreader” of inaccurate or unchecked information surrounding this virus outbreak.

Rodney E. Rohde, PhD, MS, SM(ASCP)CM SVCM, MBCM, FACSc, serves as chair and professor of the Clinical Laboratory Science Program at Texas State; associate director for the Translational Health Research Initiative; as well as associate dean for research in the College of Health Professions. Follow him on Twitter @RodneyRohde / @TXST_CLS, or on his website: http://rodneyerohde.wp.txstate.edu/

Walking Through the Microscopic Valley of Death

By Rodney E. Rohde, PhD, MS, SM(ASCP)CM SVCM, MBCM, FACSc

This column originally appeared in the February 2020 issue of Healthcare Hygiene magazine.

Have you ever stopped and thought about how fortunate we are to live during this time? I am talking about the advancement of healthcare in general and medical procedures/devices in particular. Take a moment to consider how an artificial hip or knee may have changed a loved one’s life. What about the diagnostic medical devices utilized for visualizing possible life-threatening conditions or disease? Truly, I think we all probably take these wonders of medical science for granted.

Globally, medical devices have prolonged our lives, as well as improved the quality of life for millions. Most of us probably think of replacement knees and hips, vascular stents and pacemakers as representative of these engineering marvels. Endoscopes and catheters, used for diagnostic and therapeutic procedures, are categorized as medical devices too since they are placed into the body and retain their original form. To clarify, a needle that is inserted into the body is classed as a medical device, but the solution injected through that needle is specifically classified as a pharmaceutical. Given that medical devices enter the body, the need to be free of contamination is paramount for patient safety.

Berkshire Corporation via U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidelines explain contaminants and their removal well. Prior to the introduction of the device into the body (whether temporarily for diagnostic purposes or permanently for therapeutic purposes), we want it to be as free of contaminants as possible. Medical device contaminants can include traces of lubricants, oils, and other processing residues (e.g. polymers, adhesives), viables (microorganisms), and non-viables, such as particles and fibers. In the manufacturing process, medical devices are packaged and then terminally sterilized as the last step. The sterilization procedure does not remove contaminants; it only ensures that any viables left on the device cannot proliferate further–any residual surface contamination left on the device before sterilization remains after the process and can pose a risk to patient safety. Fortunately, simple wiping techniques employed with proper wipers and solvents prior to packaging and sterilization can produce a clean medical device.

The FDA Center for Devices and Radiological Health (CDRH) Microbiology and Infection Control states that with the increased use of medical devices and their promise to improve quality of life, preventing device-associated infection is a top public health priority. Every medical device is prone to microbial colonization and biofilm formation, resulting inevitably in device failure and patient harm. In addition, the association of colonized devices with development of drug resistant organisms is a serious and under-investigated area of importance. The Medical Device Biofouling and Biofilms Research Program addresses medical-device failure and patient harm caused by the combined effects of biofouling, colonization, and biofilms. Rather than study these phenomena as individual events, the research uses sophisticated high-throughput microfluidic approaches to assess how variables such as biofouling, cleaning and material properties affect bacterial adhesion and biofilm progression. The group uses optical and electron microscopy, surface plasmon resonance (SPR), and other biosensing and surface analysis methods to study biomolecular interactions at the interface of device, host and microorganism. In laymen’s terms, this group is trying to determine the best way(s) to understand not only what invisible inhabitants are found in the microscopic valley of death (aka surfaces), but how to best remove (clean and sterilize) them.

Some of the current research areas addressed include:
• Bacterial interactions with soft medical device materials (contact lenses, dermal fillers, ophthalmic surgical devices
• Development of better test methods and endpoint measurements for antimicrobial device technologies (wound dressings, catheters)
• Biofilm specific diagnostics (optical coherence tomography, biomarkers)
• Detection of biofouling and biofilm on reprocessed devices (endoscopes, surgical tools)
• Influence of material, device design, roughness, and presence of soil on cleanability
• Performance testing of one-way valves Intended to prevent cross-contamination and infections in patients
• Reprocessing flexible endoscopes
• Chemically defined clinically relevant test soils for cleaning validation of reusable medical devices

While medical advances and devices have advanced the health of civilization in ways we never fathomed, let us not forget that the microorganisms have outpaced human advancement every step of the way, including finding ways to survive the microscopic valley and surfaces of arguably every niche known.

Rodney E. Rohde, PhD, MS, SM(ASCP)CM SVCM, MBCM, FACSc, serves as chair and professor of the Clinical Laboratory Science Program at Texas State; associate director for the Translational Health Research Initiative; as well as associate dean for research in the College of Health Professions. Follow him on Twitter @RodneyRohde / @TXST_CLS, or on his website: http://rodneyerohde.wp.txstate.edu/

A Microbial Home for the Holidays?

By Rodney E. Rohde, PhD, MS, SM(ASCP)CM SVCM, MBCM, FACSc

This column originally appeared in the January 2020 issue of Healthcare Hygiene magazine.

The holidays are a time for family and friends to get together and share memories. These times often include visits to see grandparents and others in a variety of settings, whether it is the home or a long-term care or assisted living facility. Likewise, as we approach 2020, we often surround ourselves with not only loved ones, but others that have traveled from across a vast geographic landscape. These gatherings are full of wonderful times of reconnecting, sharing food and drink, and visits with old and new acquaintances.

The holidays are an amazing time and we should all enjoy them to the fullest. However, there is a bit of a dark side to holiday season. Our own microbial population also comes along with us and/or we encounter new microbial visitors in our travels. Exposure to more people than usual can increase our chances of becoming ill. So, during this holiday season, spending some time to take extra precautions may help keep you from catching someone else’s illness or if you are ill, preventing the spread to others.

One thing we do not want to give or receive during the holidays is an infection. One of the major concerns during the holiday season in North America is how this time of the year coincides with cold and flu season. Everyone catches a cold (usually a rhinovirus) from time to time and, for most people, a cold causes a week or so of feeling miserable: stuffy nose, headache, cough, and more, and then it goes away. The cough associated with a cold can last for a while longer, sometimes weeks if it is a particularly nasty one. However, some people can become seriously ill if they catch a cold. The virus can make them vulnerable to developing other illnesses, like bronchitis or even pneumonia, particularly among the very old, very young, or those who have weakened immune systems or chronic illnesses. Pneumonia is the most common cause of sepsis and septic shock, according to the American Thoracic Society.

Influenza is another easily spread virus in close quarters. The flu is not a gastrointestinal illness; there is no such thing as the stomach flu. Influenza is a serious respiratory infection. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), depending on the flu season, between 9.3 million and 49 million people in the U.S. are affected annually, with 140,000 and 960,000 flu-related hospitalizations, and up to 79,000 deaths each year. Grandparents visiting their grandchildren could be particularly at risk. Children are "super-spreaders" of flu and the over-65s are one of the "at-risk" groups that can develop health complications, such as pneumonia, if they catch it.

To make matters worse, the flu virus can live on surfaces (doorknobs and tables) — and potentially infect people — for 48 hours, according to the CDC. This serves as an important reminder that all surfaces matter in the war on healthcare associated infections (HAIs) and pathogen transmission. Remember, a home or community environment can serve as a reservoir too for any pathogen or antimicrobial resistant microbe such as respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), parainfluenza (croup), or even pertussis (whooping cough) to name a few others.

Flu may spread to others up to 6 feet away. Droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or inhaled into the lungs. Less often, a person may touch a surface contaminated with the flu virus, and then touch their mouth, nose or eyes. Someone with the flu is most contagious for the first three to four days after becoming sick. However, adults can infect others a day before symptoms are apparent and up to five to seven days after becoming sick. Young children and people with weakened immune systems are contagious for longer.

Gastroenteritis (GE) is another illness often mistakenly referred to as a “stomach flu.” GE occurs when a microbe infection irritates and inflames the gastrointestinal lining, resulting in nausea, vomiting, cramping, stomach pain, fever, and diarrhea. The infection spreads either through direct contact with someone who is already ill, through touching objects that have the bacteria or virus on it, or through contaminated food or drink. Because of the many ways it spreads, it is particularly important to be vigilant when you are at a large gathering.

To avoid giving or receiving these unwanted microbial “gifts,” one can do several things for prevention:
• Wash your hands and properly discard of tissues, etc.
• Ensure that cold food is kept cold and hot food hot.
• Get the seasonal flu vaccine (and other recommended vaccines).
• Stay away from gatherings if you are ill.
• Avoid others who are ill.

Rodney E. Rohde, PhD, MS, SM(ASCP)CM SVCM, MBCM, FACSc, serves as chair and professor of the Clinical Laboratory Science Program at Texas State; associate director for the Translational Health Research Initiative; as well as associate dean for research in the College of Health Professions. Follow him on Twitter @RodneyRohde / @TXST_CLS, or on his website: http://rodneyerohde.wp.txstate.edu/

KPC: The Beginning of the End?

By Rodney E. Rohde, PhD, MS, SM(ASCP)CM SVCM, MBCM, FACSc

This column, Under the Microscope, originally appeared in the November 2019 issue of Healthcare Hygiene magazine.

First appearing in the United States in the late 1990s, Klebsiella pneumoniae carbapenemase (KPCs)-producing bacteria have spread rapidly across hospitals and long-term care facilities in many countries. KPC-producing K. pneumoniae is by far the most commonly encountered carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE) species.

KPC-producing bacteria are a group of emerging highly drug-resistant Gram-negative bacilli causing infections associated with significant morbidity and mortality. With the rapid increase of infections caused by this microbe, they are now referred collectively as carbapenemase-producing Enterobacteriaceae (CPE) but one may see different acronyms – E. coli and K. pneumoniae are the primary pathogens. The type of carbapenemase enzyme detected in carbapenemase-producing Enterobacteriaceae isolates (e.g. KPC, Metallo-beta-lactamases [MBL], carbapenem-hydrolysing oxacillinase-48 [OXA-48], etc.) is a complex discussion that will not be the focus of this article. As Ambretti, et al. (2019) state, the relationship between CRE and CPE is one of broad but not complete overlapping, since most but not all CRE are CPE and vice versa. In fact, some CRE are not CPE and some CPE are not. However, these differences are important to understand with respect to diagnostics, treatment, prevention, and epidemiology.

Enterobacteriaceae, namely Escherichia coli and Klebsiella pneumoniae, are the most common human pathogens, causing infections that range from cystitis to pyelonephritis, septicemia, pneumonia, peritonitis and meningitis. The other Enterobacteriaceae causing infections in humans include Citrobacter species, Enterobacter species, Serratia marcescens, Proteus spp., and Providencia spp. These organisms persist and spread rapidly in healthcare settings by hand carriage as well as contaminated food and water. In common language, they are Enterics (gut-associated bacteria) and can be found virtually everyone, on every surface in a healthcare and community environment.

Several factors increase the risk of colonization and infection with CPE. Risk factors for CPE infection include severe underlying illness, prolonged hospital stay, the presence of invasive medical devices, and antibiotic use.

CPE infections are difficult to treat, since CPE are resistant to virtually all beta-lactam antibiotics and often contain additional mechanisms of resistance against second-line antibiotics such as aminoglycoside and fluoroquinolones. Studies have also shown emerging resistance to antibiotics of last resort (i.e., tigecycline or colistin), leaving very few therapeutic options. Certainly, we know selective pressure from colistin use is a major factor that drives resistance to this agent, as has also been shown for colistin resistance in other pathogens. It is not surprising with the surge of colistin use for CPE in hospitals during the global transmission of the agent.

Colistin resistance can emerge rather quickly once KPC-producing K. pneumoniae is utilized in healthcare and/or long-term care environments, and colistin is used to treat. Then, colistin-resistant, KPC-producing K. pneumoniae may directly colonize or infect patients who are not colonized with the colistin-susceptible counterparts, at least in the setting of ongoing selective pressure from high-level colistin use. This leads us to another set of questions. If susceptibility to colistin cannot be assumed, should clinical microbiology laboratories consider performing susceptibility testing of the isolates for colistin for all patients who receive this agent, instead of just those who are colistin experienced? In addition, from an infection prevention perspective, should patients colonized or infected with colistin-resistant strains be grouped (or isolated) from patients with colistin-susceptible strains?

CPE have been associated with adverse clinical and economic outcomes, including increased mortality, increased length of stay, delay in the institution of effective therapy, decreased functional status on discharge, and increased cost of health care. It is imperative that risk factors for infection with these organisms are clearly identified so that effective strategies can be developed to curtail the emergence and spread of these strains.

CPE and other resistant pathogens continually beg the question – have we reached the post-antibiotic era? CPE have developed the ability to become resistant to last-resort powerful antimicrobials known as carbapenems, which makes them more challenging to treat if they go on to cause infection. CPE are bacteria that are carried in the gut and are resistant to most, and sometimes all, available antibiotics.

CPE is shed in feces and transmitted by direct and indirect contact. A period of four weeks or more may elapse between that contact that results in acquisition of the organism and the time at which CPE becomes detectable in the sample. If CPE stays in the gut, it is mostly harmless. However, if it spreads to the urine or blood it can be fatal.  And, for those of us who know about contamination and environmental surfaces in healthcare, this becomes especially concerning. It has been reported that more than half of all patients who develop blood stream infections with CPE die because of their infection. Many believe that of all the superbugs seen, CPE is the hardest to kill. Is this the end for antibiotics?

Rodney E. Rohde, PhD, MS, SM(ASCP)CM SVCM, MBCM, FACSc, serves as chair and professor of the Clinical Laboratory Science Program at Texas State; associate director for the Translational Health Research Initiative; as well as associate dean for research in the College of Health Professions. Follow him on Twitter @RodneyRohde / @TXST_CLS, or on his website: http://rodneyerohde.wp.txstate.edu/

HAIs: Everything Changes When It Happens to You

By Rodney E. Rohde, PhD, MS, SM(ASCP)CM SVCM, MBCM, FACSc

This column, Under the Microscope, originally appeared in the November 2019 issue of Healthcare Hygiene magazine.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that on any given day, 1 in 25 hospital patients get a healthcare-acquired infection (HAI). Research suggests that a growing number of HAIs are caused by pathogens that are outsmarting the antimicrobials typically used to fight them. These are known as antibiotic resistant germs, sometimes referred to as superbugs.

HAI and antimicrobial resistance (AMR), in my professional opinion, is one of the most critical public health and healthcare issues of the 21st century. They have devastating effects on physical, mental/emotional, and financial health. In addition, they cost billions of dollars in added expenses to the healthcare system. The World Health Organization (WHO) predicts that by 2050, AMR will have a $100 trillion economic impact globally as a mortality of 10 million people. If one does the math, this means that approximately one new AMR infection will occur every three seconds! At this pace, AMR/HAIs will surpass cancer as the No. 1 killer by 2050.

When I answered the phone at home one evening in late December 2007 and heard the voice of a worried woman, the genesis of an idea for my future research path began to take shape. She was concerned about her husband, she said. The retired Utah couple had traveled over the holidays and the husband, a cancer patient, developed sores on his torso. They went to the emergency room, where a doctor diagnosed a staph infection and prescribed antibiotics but ordered no lab tests. The man’s condition worsened, so he went to his family doctor. After an examination and some laboratory tests, the doctor determined that the man had methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) — an infection that cannot be treated with most typical antibiotics. Studies show that about 1 in 3 (33 percent) people carry S. aureus bacteria in their nose, usually without any illness and approximately 5 percent of patients in U.S. hospitals carry MRSA in their nose or on their skin.

I remember it like yesterday – such a vivid reminder of the confusion, concern, and plight of these individuals dealing with such a difficult healthcare problem. The wife of the patient from Utah had some basic knowledge about MRSA from media coverage and she was very concerned about what had happened to her husband at the emergency room given his immunocompromised state because of the cancer. She just wanted to know why this had happened and whether she or anyone else they had been in contact with should be concerned about transmission.

MRSA first emerged as a serious infectious threat in the late 1960s as the bacterium developed resistance to penicillin. Vancomycin has been used as treatment for MRSA, but now even vancomycin-resistant strains are emerging. Although the Staphylococci bacteria, including MRSA, commonly colonize the skin of healthy people, often posing little to no threat, these bugs are quick to exploit any opportunity to invade wounds, nasal passageways, or mucosal membranes where they can rapidly produce infections that can become life threatening.

Fortunately, we are doing better in the war on HAIs. Progress in the latest report is based on information from the National Healthcare Safety Network (NHSN) on central line-associated bloodstream infections (CLABSIs), catheter-associated urinary tract infections (CAUTIs), ventilator-associated events (VAEs), surgical site infections (SSIs), methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) bloodstream infections, and Clostridioides difficile events. Nationally, among acute-care hospitals between 2016 and 2017, report highlights include:

  • About 9% decrease in CLABSIs
  • About 5% decrease in CAUTIs
  • About 3% decrease in VAEs
  • No significant changes in abdominal hysterectomy SSIs
  • No significant changes in colon surgery SSIs
  • About 8% decrease in MRSA bacteremia
  • About 13% decrease in C. difficile infections

Concerning HAIs like MRSA, I feel particularly dedicated because of my interaction with the people I’ve interviewed and advised (including my family and friends). It is with this knowledge that I often tell my students (future medical laboratorians and nurses), family, and public that if you do nothing else when a physician or other healthcare worker prescribes you an antibiotic empirically or tells you it’s “just a regular staph infection,” be sure to demand a culture/ID and antibiotic susceptibility test. It just may save your life or that of a loved one.

We can and must be better. If not, we all fail. We fail ourselves. We fail each other. And, we especially fail those patients who need our voice and advocacy – even those who don’t know what questions to ask!

Rodney E. Rohde, PhD, MS, SM(ASCP)CM SVCM, MBCM, FACSc, serves as chair and professor of the Clinical Laboratory Science Program at Texas State; associate director for the Translational Health Research Initiative; as well as associate dean for research in the College of Health Professions. Follow him on Twitter @RodneyRohde / @TXST_CLS, or on his website: http://rodneyerohde.wp.txstate.edu/

Sitting at the Intersection of Microbes and Surfaces

By Rodney E. Rohde, PhD, MS, SM(ASCP)CM SVCM, MBCM, FACSc

This column, Under the Microscope, originally appeared in the October 2019 issue of Healthcare Hygiene magazine.

It is my honor to join Healthcare Hygiene magazine as the expert columnist for “Under the Microscope.” In the coming months, this column will explore the imperatives relating to microbiology and its importance and application in the real-world healthcare environment, especially as it relates to surfaces, and the roles they play in pathogen transfer. I will also feature a monthly microbe on the growing list of deadly antimicrobial resistant microbes.

This past week, I received my weekly phone call from my parents. My dad is a retired railroad conductor who is from the #GreatestGeneration. He is one of the strongest people I know. My brother, sister and I grew up hearing him often say to us, “I don’t have time to be sick,” as he headed out on another train trip. Like many of us, our parents are our heroes.

We think of them as being invincible – until they are not.

Being a railroad conductor was a great career for my father. In my hometown of Smithville, Texas, most men wanted the job because it provided a strong and steady income for a family. It allowed my mom to be a stay at home mother who raised the three of us – also a full-time job! A railroad conductor is the boss of the train, not the engineer. Dad worked when there was still a caboose at the back of the train and I still remember the vivid stories of him telling us about “jumping on and off” of the caboose to walk the train for inspection. Unfortunately, those long walks past hundreds of railway cars meant that he was often walking at odd angles in hard rock. Well, thirty plus years of doing that wore out his knees and his ankles.

Finally, it became too much to bear and he received a medical retirement in his late 50s. A great career, yet, one that took a terrible toll on his body. Last night, dad called to let me know that one of his feet had been bothering him again. What started as a small “corn” on one of his feet opened up and started draining blood. For my father, he knows what this means, as he has had one knee replacement and multiple surgeries on both ankles to fuse bones with screws and pins.

He has now become my student with respect to trying to understand what the difference is between “regular staph infections versus #MRSA.” Dad has been in and out of the hospital the past several years receiving everything from incision and drainage procedures to full-blown surgery to remove an infected toe, tissue and bone. Likewise, he has become all too familiar with oral versus IV antibiotics from multiple classes of antimicrobials. Finally, he and mom have had long discussions with me about infection control and prevention in the healthcare and home/community setting because all #SurfacesMatter in the new post-antibiotic world of #superbugs and #antibioticresistance (#amr). It saddens me to see the confusion and sometimes surrender on their faces due to “another infection.”

While I cannot prove it, my professional opinion as an infectious disease microbiologist and medical laboratory professional leads me to believe that his problems started with the various metal components inserted into my dad’s knee and/or feet years ago – you see, ALL surfaces matter ALL the time.

Staphylococcus skin infections and the emergence of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) are a major health concern. Staphylococcus aureus and other species are typical normal flora for human skin. For the average person, this means that you have bacteria growing on your body and it is normal. That is what normal flora means. It grows on/in you and often can be a symbiotic (healthy) relationship. However, complications can arise if the bacteria enter the host through breaks in the skin. Whether exposure leads to infection depends on several factors: bacterial virulence; overall host status; amount of exposure or infectious dose; and the time of exposure as longer exposures increase the chance that bacteria will gain entry. Should entry occur and the host's immune system overwhelmed, symptoms can range from a minor skin infection to serious systemic infection. In some cases, severe infection can result in death.

MRSA first emerged as a serious infectious threat in the late 1960s as the bacterium developed resistance to the synthetic form of penicillin known as methicillin. In fact, even the discoverer of the miracle drug penicillin in 1928, Alexander Fleming, observed resistance to his wonder drug and warned society in the 20th century. Unfortunately, we did not listen.

Although the Staphylococci bacteria, including MRSA, commonly colonize the skin of healthy people, often posing little to no threat, these bugs are quick to exploit any opportunity to invade wounds, nasal passageways, or mucosal membranes where they can rapidly produce infections that can become life threatening. It is not surprising then, that MRSA has been the focus of intense scientific and political interest around the world and has frequently been labeled as a superbug in the popular media.

This tiny, microscopic organism is just one of many that have become resistant to commonly prescribed antibiotics. It can also remain viable for extended periods of time on different surfaces in the community and healthcare environment.
A perfect storm waiting for its next unaware victim, like my dad.

Join me in the coming months as I begin to show you what’s behind the curtain and Under the Microscope with respect to these deadly and often hidden microbes that can take a terrible toll on us and our loved ones.

Rodney E. Rohde, PhD, MS, SM(ASCP)CM SVCM, MBCM, FACSc, serves as chair and professor of the Clinical Laboratory Science Program at Texas State; associate director for the Translational Health Research Initiative; as well as associate dean for research in the College of Health Professions. He also is a member of the board of directors of the Healthcare Surfaces Institute. Follow him on Twitter @RodneyRohde /@TXST_CLS, or on his website: http://rodneyerohde.wp.txstate.edu/

The following article is from the October 2019 issue of Healthcare Hygiene magazine.

Candida auris: A Stealth Enemy With Environmental Persistence

By Kelly M. Pyrek

Public health entities such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have compiled lists of the problem pathogens that continue to represent some of the greatest challenges to infection prevention and control (IPC) efforts. Rising on that list is Candida auris, an emerging worldwide public health scourge that is growing in intensity as a healthcare-acquired organism. It is particularly fearsome because of its innate resistance to multiple anti-fungal drugs and its resilience in the face of traditional hygiene measures.

In contrast to other Candida species, C. auris is transmitted easily in the healthcare setting, and it is demonstrating the ability to persist both in the human host and on inanimate surfaces.
“Candida auris is an emerging fungus and one of the headaches with this species is it’s multidrug-resistant, meaning that it is resistant to multiple antifungal drugs commonly used to treat Candida infections,” confirms Rodney E. Rohde, PhD, MS, professor and chair of the Clinical Laboratory Science Program at Texas State University.

C. auris is also transcending traditional classification.

“Infection prevention experts tend to want to group pathogens into groups such as healthcare-acquired or community-acquired but when it comes to resistant organisms you really can't use those terms anymore,” Rohde says. “For instance, in some of the studies I have conducted with different organisms, what we used to think was only in the community, we see those strains or genotypes showing up in healthcare patients, and vice versa. So, even though microbiology and science tells us certain species are strictly found in the healthcare setting or strictly found in the community setting, in reality, it’s more of a global presence now due to so many vehicles and vectors that move in and out of healthcare settings.”

Rohde continues, “When we talk healthcare settings, we tend to only think hospitals, but we must think long-term care, outpatient and dialysis centers, clinics, and school and university health centers. I think it’s a communication problem; as scientists, we love to put things into pots and think we’ve described them adequately, and they are going to stay that way, but one of my favorite sayings is, organisms do not read the book of rules we’ve written for them. However, we teach it that way sometimes to try to make sense of it, but when you get into the real-world trenches, the truth is, we’re not able to do that. Organisms are crossing all boundaries.”

C. auris is insidious and still greatly unknown to hospitals and healthcare systems, much like the early days of Clostridium difficile. Experts are tending to agree that C. auris has operated under the radar. Rhodes and Fisher (2019) say that “Since its discovery, C. auris has caused a ‘stealthy pandemic,’ emerging across the globe and is now recorded in all continents except Antarctica. However, C. auris is thought to have been misidentified as C. haemulonii on several occasions, suggesting that C. auris has likely been circulating as a human pathogen before 2009.”

Candida auris as a newly recognized cause of fungal infection is catching healthcare professionals unawares, despite cases being reported for nearly a decade now. Since the first official isolation of Candida auris in 2009, scientific community has witnessed an exponential emergence of infection episodes and outbreaks in different world regions. According to the CDC as of June 30, 2019 (the most recent data available), there are 725 confirmed cases, plus an additional 1,474 patients have been found to be colonized with C. auris by targeted screening in 10 states with clinical cases.

“Candida, as a fungus, is an unusual and a difficult problem to deal with,” Rohde says. “It’s not typically something you would be looking for in a healthcare setting, and certainly not looking for it in the common population. But it is a factor when looking at the immunocompromised population in context of environmental and healthcare exposure; for example, could a patient have been working in a certain environment where fungi and yeast are present? But to have a fungus emerging and breeding in a healthcare setting is a novel challenge in our lifetime. So, I think we are trying to grasp what that means.”

He continues, “Microbiologists are very concerned about C. auris because you almost have to rethink everything from the laboratory perspective. If you are a clinician in a smaller facility or a rural hospital, you often must wait on sending specimens out to an off-site, more central clinical laboratory, and that eats up valuable diagnostic time. You can typically know pretty quickly if you have Staph or Klebsiella or any of these other multi-resistant organisms if you have access to rapid assays; but yeast and fungi are not typically, at least right now, on the radar for panel testing. Fortunately, it’s starting to get there, obviously, but if you don’t have a trained medical laboratory professional on staff who can look under a microscope or conduct some type of test to rule out yeast -- you could have some slippage with respect to turnaround time on a diagnosis, so there’s a significant challenge.”

Kenters, et al. (2019) confirms that C. auris is a budding yeast that forms white, pink, or purple colonies on CHROMagar and can be difficult to distinguish from C. glabrata: “Some strains form aggregates of cells while others do not. In contrast to most other Candida species, it grows well at higher temperature (40-42° C) … First attempts to identify C. auris using PCR directly from swabs, seem to produce frequent ‘false positive’ results -- positive in PCR, negative in culture swabs. The first report of three cases of nosocomial fungemia due to C. auris showed that this yeast is commonly misidentified as C. haemulonii and Rhodotorula glutinis using traditional phenotypic methods. These widely used routine identification methods for yeasts are based on phenotypic assimilation/fermentation tests using sets of carbon and nitrogen compounds. An investigation of 102 clinical isolates, previously identified as C. haemulonii or C. famata, showed that 88.2 percent of the isolates were in fact C. auris, when confirmed by ITS sequencing. Several studies have since reported that, in routine microbiology laboratories, C. auris remains a problematic, difficult to identify pathogen, because commercial biochemical identification systems lacked this yeast in their databases.”

“C. auris transmission might be happening in a healthcare facility where professionals are completely unaware; they haven’t been able to detect it, or they are just missing it due to false negatives, and it begs the issue of the importance of having access to clinical microbiology services,” Rohde says. “An expert in clinical microbiology and medical laboratory needs to be part of this equation -- and not just for Candida auris, but for all pathogens in the healthcare setting."

He continues, “People may argue with me on this, but physicians and others in healthcare who are responsible for patient outcomes, often do not have the kind of expertise, education and background to immediately identify problematic organisms; not to detract from their other medical diagnostic skills, but you cannot know intuitively which microbe is infecting a patient without a medical laboratorian conducting a test -- it’s just not going to happen. Unless of course you have those cases where a physician might have the training and the background to do so, but that’s rare. Unfortunately, healthcare has become so lean that many laboratories are being consolidated, with their full microbiology toolbox being moved to a central location. This makes sense from an economic perspective, but sometimes for clinicians, that’s not the best scenario.”

That becomes even more of an issue when considering the long list of risk factors for patients, including immunosuppressed state, significant medical comorbidities, central venous catheters, urinary catheters, recent surgery, parenteral nutrition, exposure to broad spectrum antimicrobials, intensive care unit admission, and residence in a high-acuity skilled nursing facility.

Sears and Schwartz (2017) point out that C. auris has been recovered in samples from blood, catheter tips, cerebrospinal fluid, bone, ear discharge, pancreatic fluid, pericardial fluid, peritoneal fluid, pleural fluid, respiratory secretions (including sputum and bronchoalveolar lavage), skin and soft tissue samples (both tissue and swab cultures), urine, and vaginal secretions. Clinically, it has been implicated as a causative agent in fungemia, ventriculitis, osteomyelitis, malignant otitis, complicated intra-abdominal infections, pericarditis, complicated pleural effusions, and vulvovaginitis. They add that, “Much like other Candida species, there is uncertainty about the ability of C. auris to cause true respiratory, urinary, and skin and soft tissue infections despite being isolated from such samples.”

Cortegiani, et al. (2019) observe that “It is likely that many cases are missed, due to its misidentification with other non-albicans Candida spp. (e.g., C. haemulonii) by common microbiological diagnostic methods. Most of the reports occurred in critically ill adults, with risk factors for invasive fungal infections, such as immunosuppression, surgery, or indwelling catheters. The most common form of infection was candidemia, with a crude mortality of nearly 30 percent, but up to 70 percent in some reports.”

Cortegiani, et al. (2019) emphasize the criticality of fighting C. auris in the intensive care unit (ICU): “Despite implementation of countermeasures to limit colonization and infections in ICUs, cases continue to be reported, with a tendency to an endemic pattern. This reflects the ability of C. auris to persist in the clinical environment, facilitating its transmission within the critical-care setting. Multidrug-resistant (MDR) pattern and has been frequently observed (around 40 percent) with serious and complex consequences for antifungal therapy.”

The researchers note that due to the progressive spread of C. auris and treatment-related concerns, attention should be focused on the following major issues: worldwide transmission, anti-fungal treatment resistance, resilience and mechanisms of transmission, Implementation of infection prevention and control measures, and surveillance.

Let’s review each issue:

Antifungal treatment resistance
Cortegiani, et al. (2019) note that, “To date, there are not established minimum inhibitory concentrations (MICs) breakpoints for susceptibility testing of C. auris. Antifungal susceptibility data from three continents demonstrated that nearly 40 percent were MDR, with strains being resistant to fluconazole (90 percent), amphotericin B (30 percent to 40 percent) and echinocandins (5 percent to 10 percent). Moreover, a small percentage were also resistant to all antifungals available. C. auris demonstrates a high propensity to develop antifungal resistance under selective pressure. Recent studies demonstrated mutations in ERG11 (encoding lanosterol demethylase, the target of azoles) and FKS1 genes (encoding 1,3-beta-glucan synthase, the target of echinocandins). The recommended antifungals for C. auris treatment are mainly based on in-vitro testing and on the most frequently retrieved resistance profiles. Echinocandins are the recommended first-line treatment, pending specific susceptibility testing. Lipid formulation of amphotericin B should be an alternative in patients not responding to echinocandins. Close monitoring to early detect therapeutic failures and evolution of antifungal resistance is needed. New antifungals (e.g., SCY-078, APX001A/APX001, and rezafungin) have been tested with success but they are not available to date for clinical use.”

Resilience and mechanisms of transmission
Cortegiani, et al. (2019) explain that, “Unlike others Candida species, C. auris can colonize different anatomical sites (e.g., skin, skin, rectum, axilla, stool) and contaminate hospital equipment and surfaces, creating a vicious cycle of acquisition, spreading, and infection, particularly in ICUs. Indeed, bed, chairs, and monitoring tools (e.g., pulse oximeters, temperature probes) were contaminated during outbreaks. Recently, Eyre et al. published the results of a patients’ and hospital environmental screening program in Oxford, UK, after 70 patients (66 admitted to a neuro-ICU) were identified as being colonized or infected by C. auris. Seven patients developed an invasive infection during hospital stay. C. auris was detected mainly on skin-surface axillary temperature probes and other reusable tools. In patients monitored with skin-surface temperature probes, the risk of C. auris infection/colonization was seven times higher. Adoption of specific bundles of infection control had no significant effects until removal of the temperature probes. Recent studies have confirmed that C. auris can form biofilms, with a high variation of capacity of production depending on the C. auris strain considered. Biofilm may present reduced susceptibility to hydrogen peroxide and chlorhexidine. Quaternary ammonium compounds and cationic surface-active products seem to be ineffective against C. auris. Chlorine-based products appear to be the most effective for environmental surface disinfection. Chlorine-based disinfectants (at a concentration of 1,000 ppm), hydrogen- peroxide, or other disinfectants with documented fungicidal activity are recommended for environmental cleaning by the European CDC (ECDC).”

Implementation of infection prevention and control measures
Cortegiani, et al. (2019): say that, “Usually, outbreaks follow an exponential increase in the number of affected patients. It is mandatory to trace contacts with the aim to achieve early identification and screening of possible colonized patients that might be responsible for persistence of C. auris. Patients potentially or already colonized should be placed in single rooms with contact isolation precautions. Screening should be applied for contacts and patients previously hospitalized in healthcare settings where C. auris isolation was confirmed. Hand hygiene (with alcohol or chlorhexidine handrubs), wearing of protective clothing, and skin and environmental/equipment decontamination should be performed to prevent ongoing transmission.”

Global surveillance
Cortegiani, et al. (2019) emphasize that the emergence of C. auris and progressive spread of infections caused by other resistant pathogens has strengthened the need for a surveillance network for antimicrobial resistance globally for critically ill patients’ safety. The researchers observe, “It is hard to predict future C. auris diffusion. There will be outbreaks also in countries in which C. auris has been not reported yet? Will new MDR clones continue to emerge? Will we be able to apply effective antifungal stewardship programs and control measures?”

So much about C. auris is still unchartered territory, and as Rhodes and Fisher (2019) observe, “The global emergence of C. auris testifies to the unmapped nature of Kingdom Fungi and represents a new nosocomial threat that will require enhanced infection control across diverse healthcare and community settings.” The researchers add, “Currently, nothing is known about the origins and initial emergence of C. auris; its propensity to survive on inanimate objects within the hospital alongside resistance to disinfection protocols suggests the existence of an unknown non-human environmental reservoir. However, similar to other Candida species, the true nature of C. auris’ ancestral reservoirs currently remains elusive. The detection of clonal C. auris isolates on multiple continents simultaneously with distinct geographical antifungal resistance mechanisms suggests at least four independent emergence events followed by clonal expansion and the ongoing evolution of resistance in response to antifungal therapy … As sequencing technology develops, it is likely rapid sequencing of C. auris isolates can be achieved in 48 hours or less leading to the potential for bedside diagnostics twinned with molecular epidemiology of nosocomial patterns of transmission. Currently, it is not often known when patients become colonized – whether from the hospital environment or endogenous carriers – and the extent of carriage in the community remains largely unexamined.”

Lockhart (2019) indicates that rapid identification of colonized patients followed by isolation and contact precautions can help stem the spread of resistant clones: “Real-time detection methods can not only rapidly identify colonized patients but may also contribute to the rapid detection of resistance. Besides the existing laboratory-developed tests, there is at least one commercially available PCR test for the rapid detection of C. auris. There are currently two real-time assays for detection of anti-fungal resistance in C. auris, one for detecting azole resistance and the other for echinocandin resistance, as well as a report that echinocandin resistance can be detected using MALDI-TOF. These rapid platforms may become essential for the rapid determination of appropriate therapy.”

Environmental Persistence of C. auris
Short, et al. (2019) are sounding the alarm about the environmental persistence of C. auris; in their study, they found show that the ability of this multidrug-resistant yeast to form cellular aggregates increases survival after 14 days, which coincides with the upregulation of biofilm-associated genes. The researchers also caution, “Additionally, the aggregating strain demonstrated tolerance to clinical concentrations of sodium hypochlorite and remained viable 14 days post treatment. The ability of C. auris to adhere to and persist on environmental surfaces emphasizes our need to better understand the biology of this fungal pathogen.”

The researchers explain, “A key attribute of its pathogenic repertoire is its ability to survive and persist in the environment, yet the methods employed by this multidrug-resistant pathogen to disseminate throughout healthcare environments are still not fully understood. This has profound implications for decontamination and infection control protocols. Therefore, understanding the mechanisms of spread and survival in the hospital environment is critical, particularly as it persists on hospital fomites, extensively colonize individuals, and to survive as biofilms. Although traditionally biofilms are associated with formation on an indwelling medical device or on a mucosal substrate, recent investigations have suggested that these communities can facilitate residence and survival upon surfaces within a clinical setting. Despite the lack of nutrients, these communities adapt to survive and display increased tolerance to both heat and conventional disinfection treatments compared to a free-floating, equivalent cell. C. auris has been shown to readily transmit between hospital equipment, such as reusable temperature probes, and patients suggesting limitations of current infection control strategies. Commonly used disinfectants have been shown to be highly effective when tested in suspension, yet our previous data indicate that adherent C. auris cells can selectively tolerate biocides, including sodium hypochlorite and peracetic acid, in a substrate-dependent manner.”

To test the theory of biofilm formation being employed as an endurance strategy of C. auris, Short, et al. (2019) performed survival studies using two phenotypically distinct isolates based on their ability to form cellular aggregates. The researchers report, “Similar to previous findings, C. auris was found to remain viable for at least two weeks within a dry environment, regardless of the organic material in which it was suspended. It was shown that aggregating cells survived considerably better than their single-cell counterparts in PBS (>2.5 log2 cfu/mL) and 10% FCS (>4 log2 cfu/mL).”

The researchers add, “To confirm a role for biofilms in facilitating environmental persistence, a panel of biofilm associated genes, selected according to our group's previous transcriptional characterization of C. auris biofilms, was assessed. These genes were highly expressed across both phenotypes; however, comparative analysis revealed increased expression of approximately two-fold of several of these genes, which are involved in adhesion, extracellular matrix (ECM) production, and efflux pumps. ECM production is a well-documented resistance mechanism in pathogenic fungal biofilms of Candida spp. Increasing ECM production could provide the necessary protection for C. auris to survive extended periods of desiccation and retain viability following terminal disinfection.”

Using Infection Prevention and Control to Fight C. auris
Case investigation by public health entities such as the CDC and others has demonstrated that C. auris patients within similar geographic regions commonly had overlapping stays in the same acute-care hospital or long-term care facility, further supporting healthcare exposure as a key method of transmission.

Given the risk of nosocomial transmission of this multidrug-resistant pathogen, Sears and Schwartz (2017) emphasize that, “…infection control measures are vital to slowing the spread of C. auris. CDC recommends that all hospitalized patients with C. auris infection or colonization be treated using both Standard Precautions and Contact Precautions and housed in a private room with daily and terminal cleaning with a disinfectant agent active against Clostridium difficile spores (Cadnum et al., 2017). Receiving healthcare facilities should also be notified prior to transfer of an infected or colonized patient. Infection control precautions should be maintained until a patient is no longer infected or colonized with C. auris although there is uncertainty as to how best to monitor for ongoing colonization (CDC, 2017). There are no clear data on the efficacy of decolonization measures for patients colonized with C. auris, however this has been attempted with chlorhexidine in healthcare facilities during outbreaks.”

Kean, et al. (2018) articulate one of the greatest worries about C. auris: “The ability of this organism to survive on surfaces and withstand environmental stressors creates a challenge for eradicating it from hospitals.”

An experience with surface cleaning and disinfection to help combat C. auris in a U.S. healthcare facility was documented by Marrs, et al. (2017) who reported on two patients with C. auris infections that were admitted to the University of Chicago Medicine (UCM). In their study, the researchers collected environmental samples to assess environmental contamination before and after cleaning. They sampled the following surfaces: Bathroom sink drain, bedside table, bedrail, mattress, chair and window ledge. Routine terminal cleaning included using a 10 percent sodium hypochlorite solution that was applied to high-touch surfaces of the patient room and bathroom. The enhanced terminal cleaning process also included removing and replacing privacy curtains, using a single UV disinfection cycle in the room and bathroom, as well as supervision of the process by the environmental services manager.

The researchers note that due to a delay in identification of C auris for the first patient, pre-cleaning samples were taken more than two weeks after the patient had been discharged. During the intervening weeks, multiple patients had occupied the room and there had been more than three routine terminal cleanings. None of these samples was positive for C auris. Pre-cleaning, in-residence samples indicated C auris contamination of multiple surfaces for the second patient. Because of transfers within the institution, there are three sets of post-cleaning cultures for the second patient. All post-cleaning environmental cultures were negative for both patients. The researchers concluded that while routine terminal cleaning may have been effective in removing C auris from surfaces in one patient’s room, the enhanced terminal cleaning strategy used here was effective in their facility.

In their study, Kean, et al. (2018) evaluated a panel of C. auris clinical isolates on different surface environments against the standard disinfectant sodium hypochlorite and high-level disinfectant peracetic acid. The researchers note that, “C. auris was shown to selectively tolerate clinically relevant concentrations of sodium hypochlorite and peracetic acid in a surface-dependent manner, which may explain its ability to successfully persist within the hospital environment.”

The implications for infection control are significant, and Kean, et al. (2018) add that, “Understanding the mechanisms of spread and survival of this pathogen in the hospital environment is therefore crucial, particularly as it may persist on plastics and steel, and survive as biofilms. Several recent investigations have confirmed that C. auris is capable of prolonged survival on surfaces and have shown that surface disinfection protocols have variable and unsatisfactory outcomes. Since it has been shown recently that 1,000 ppm of an active chlorine solution is highly effective against these organisms when tested in suspension, the interaction between the pathogen and surfaces is likely to be important in determining survival of C. auris in the hospital environment. Our own work confirms this, with C. auris biofilms being generally insensitive to a range of key antimicrobial agents, thus prolonging their survival capacity.”

Kean, et al. (2018) investigated the general disinfectant sodium hypochlorite (NaOCl), widely used for terminal cleaning within the hospital environment, and the high-level disinfection agent peracetic acid, on different substrate surfaces. Four C. auris isolates obtained from various clinical sites were used, and several test surface substrates were used: cellulose matrix, 304 stainless steel, and polyester coverslips.
The researchers report that, “Initially, a standard disinfectant challenge was performed against C. auris on different substrates relevant to the hospital environment. A cellulose substrate was included to act as control for porosity. All four C. auris were significantly killed by NaOCl challenge at 1,000 and 10,000 ppm, irrespective of substrate and strain, though differences were observed between these substrates. Complete eradication was only achieved on the cellulose substrate. On the non-porous materials, significant quantities of viable yeast cells were killed on the steel surface following NaOCl at all treatment parameters, with ∼2.5 log10 reduction, with no significant differences observed at each time-point and concentration tested. Notably, those isolates treated with 1,000 ppm for 5 minutes showed significantly more regrowth compared to the other test conditions. When C. auris was tested on a polymer substrate, 5-minute exposure at 1,000 ppm was the least effective overall; although significant activity was observed, 4.95 log10 was retained on the surface. However, following an increased contact time of 10 minutes, or increased concentration to 10,000 ppm, significantly enhanced activity was observed, with an approximate overall 3.5 log10 reduction. When comparing both increased treatment parameters, no significant differences were observed between the regimens, and no notable regrowth was detected.”

The researchers observe, “There was a significant difference in activity between polymer and steel, which could be explained by the general ability of Candida species to adhere and form biofilms that are inherently more resistant. Whereas the isolates on steel responded by ∼3 log10 equally to the treatment regimens, on plastic we demonstrated differential activity depending on concentration and time of exposure to NaOCl. Another study reported greater efficacy of chlorine-based products on steel, but differences in experimental design may explain this, e.g. products and inoculum. Taken together, these data suggest that the standard disinfection procedures are surface-dependent, and that the diversity of fomites in the hospital setting could pose a problem for disinfection.”
Kean and McKloud, et al. (2018) used a three-dimensional complex biofilm model to investigate the efficacy of a panel of antiseptic therapeutics, including povidone iodine (PVP-I), chlorhexidine (CHX) and hydrogen peroxide (H2O2). They hypothesized that the ability of C. auris to form biofilms may be a potential mechanism that results in reduced susceptibility to antiseptic agents.

Initially, the antiseptic efficacy of three agents was tested against four C. auris isolates. As Kean and McKloud, et al. (2018) report, “When biofilms were treated with PVP-I for 5 minutes, concentrations of 1.25-2.5 percent were required to inhibit biofilms, which is a 16- to 128-fold change compared with planktonic cells. Increasing the exposure time (10 and 30 minutes) was shown to increase susceptibility to 0.625-1.25 percent, which is an eight- to 64-fold change compared with planktonic cells. CHX was highly active against planktonic cells, whereas biofilms were less susceptible with MICs increasing 2- to 16-fold. Elevated biofilm MICs were also observed following H2O2 exposure, with concentrations ranging between 0.25 and >1 percent required to kill biofilms, i.e. a 16-fold increase in the planktonically-active concentration. Regardless of the antiseptic active used, minimal differences in susceptibility were observed between 24- and 48-hour biofilms.”

The researchers observe, “Interestingly, PVP-I, a commonly used pre-surgical wash, was shown to be equally active against both early and mature biofilms when assessed by culture. This agreement with other studies in which PVP-I demonstrated excellent fungicidal activity against C. auris. The use of 10 percent PVP-I for surgical skin preparation has been used clinically for C. auris, with no postoperative infection reported. An interesting finding from this study was the ineffectiveness of H2O2 against both planktonic and sessile cells of C. auris. This finding is inconsistent with previous studies in which H2O2 showed significant fungicidal activity. Discrepancies between these findings are likely due to the test methodologies employed, with vaporized H2O2 assessed in one of these studies.”

The researchers add, “Future studies assessing the efficacy of CHX diluted in alcohol may provide a potential anti-biofilm strategy for successful skin disinfection. Collectively these findings illustrate the need for a greater understanding of the survival strategies of C. auris. Considering the documented high transmissibility of C. auris between patients and the environment, the implementation of stringent infection prevention and control procedures, coupled with the biological understanding of the organism, will ultimately aid the intervention strategies for this emerging pathogen.”

It is quickly becoming evident that current evidence for pragmatic infection prevention and control (IPC) recommendations is lacking, according to Kenters, et al. (2019), who reviewed the epidemiology of C. auris and identified best practices to provide guidance and recommendations for IPC measures, based on available scientific evidence, existing guidelines and expert opinion. The IPC working group of the International Society of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy (ISAC) organized a meeting with infection prevention and mycology experts to review recommendations on IPC measures on C. auris in inpatient healthcare facilities for healthcare workers on the most common interventions including: screening, standard precautions, cleaning and disinfection, inpatient transfer, outbreak management, decolonization and treatment.

The working group identified these best practices to help combat C. auris:

1. Optimal diagnostics
It is crucial to identify and report C. auris correctly in order to provide optimal patient care, treatment and initiate appropriate IPC measures. All isolates should be susceptibility tested, from whatever body site, because of varying levels of resistance.

2. Patient screening upon admission
Outbreak investigations have revealed that screening sites most frequently culturing positive for C. auris were axilla, groin, rectum and urine. Other sites for screening, even if less sensitive to colonization are the nose, mouth, external ear canals, catheter urine and wounds. If a patient has open wounds and/or intravascular catheters they should be included for screening in addition to the swabbing sites. It is important to only swab open wounds if they are not sealed by wound dressing, as opening a sealed wound can cause a risk for patients to become colonized with C. auris if they are carriers. Risk groups admitted to the hospital are patients previously admitted into intensive care units in endemic countries and, transfers from hospitals known to have C. auris. Hospitals that have C. auris present should liaise with receiving hospitals infection control teams and ensure that appropriate is information is shared. If healthcare institutions have an existing surveillance screening protocol in place for patients at high-risk for colonization with MDRO, it might be more valuable to add C. auris to the existing testing panel in the lab, rather than to re-implement additional swabbing sites.

3. Infection prevention and control interventions
For healthcare facilities to be prepared for a first case of C. auris, it is important to have a screening protocol as well as adequate IPC procedures in place. Any detection of C. auris should be immediately reported to the IPC department, leading to timely implementation of strict IPC-related measures. Patients colonized or infected with C. auris should be isolated until discharge and flagged for at least one year after the first negative screening culture. When patients are transferred within the institution or to other healthcare facilities handing over of the patient C. auris status needs to be ensured. Patient contact screening of direct contacts should be initiated on the detection of a ‘first’ case, including those being discharged and this may involve tracking back throughout the patient admission if internal transfers have taken place. Every patient should be screened in the axilla and groin, including any other relevant sites (e.g. nose, urine, rectum, throat, wounds and catheter exit sites).

The following IPC measures should be implemented for any C. auris case:
- Standard precautions
Hand hygiene is key to prevent transmission of any microorganism, including C. auris. Special attention should be given to adequate compliance with hand hygiene while caring for patients in isolation. Hand hygiene should be performed at the point of care using alcohol-based handrub (ABHR). While ABHR is the preferable choice, water and soap should be used when hands are visibly soiled and a dedicated sink needs to be in place to wash hands.

- Patient environment
Patients colonized or infected with C. auris need to be placed in contact precautions in a single room, ideally with negative pressure, and preferably with an anteroom and in-suite bathroom/toilet. If the latter is not available, patients should use a dedicated washroom or a waterless washing product, as well as a dedicated commode. The use of an isolation room with anteroom might be preferable, not because airborne spread is assumed, but because compliance with isolation measures might possibly be higher, as the double doors function as a reminder. A flagging system indicating the isolation needs to be visible at the entry of the patient room and instructions for HCWs and visitors need to be available. All biomedical products and equipment should be used as disposables, or, if re-usable should be left in the patient's room until discharge and thorough disinfection. Sharing biomedical products and equipment to other wards poses a risk of additional transmission. For mattresses and pillows, HCWs should ensure that they are 100 percent sealed before using them for a C. auris patient and its integrity should be assessed upon discharge if they are to be used for another patient.

- Personal protective equipment (PPE)
It has become evident that the use of a long-sleeved gown and gloves are sufficient to enter the room of patients found positive for C. auris. Taking into consideration that people often (unconsciously) touch their face, a surgical mask could be considered to prevent colonization of healthcare staff, since one HCW has been found transiently positive in the nose in a previous outbreak.

- Environmental cleaning
Enhanced daily and terminal disinfection has been shown to be crucial to control the spread of C. auris within healthcare facilities. In addition, the frequency of cleaning and disinfection should be at least twice daily, of at least all high-touch surfaces. Terminal cleaning and disinfection of the rooms after patient discharge needs to be performed with great diligence. When selecting a product, users should keep in mind the toxicity of a product and select one that is safer to use near a patient. Innovative automated decontamination technologies, such as UV-C disinfection can be used to ensure optimal terminal cleaning of surfaces but are an additional safeguard and not a replacement of the routine cleaning method. Both methods – UV-C and HPV – require vigorous cleaning before being effective against microorganisms. If UV-C is used, the duration of exposure for efficacy is longer than that for vegetative bacteria and a cycle time effective for spores such as C. difficile should be selected.

Cleaning and disinfection of reusable equipment is particularly important, especially as these items may be decontaminated at the departmental level by clinical staff. Where possible, dedicated equipment should be used. If dedicated equipment is not an option equipment and devices must be disinfected thoroughly after every use in line with the manufacturer's instructions and considering materials compatibility. The surfaces of re-usable items should be periodically examined to check for surface integrity and the continued ability to be able to effectively decontaminate. Materials that cannot be disinfected should not be used or discarded after use. Where possible, single-use equipment is preferred to limit possible spread via inadequately disinfected equipment. Equipment that is cleaned by clinical staff should be audited to ensure that it is effective, and facilities may wish to consider whether formal training for clinical staff in decontamination has been or should be provided.

- Patient clothing
The role of patient clothing in the transmission of C. auris is unclear. In the experience of the hospitals dealing with outbreaks, patients were asked to use hospital garments or clothes that have been washed at high temperatures. The expert group was not able to give a recommendation on this topic. Seeing that C. auris has been found to survive on linen, it may be prudent to change bedding and patient attire daily if decolonization or skin suppression is being attempted.

- Patient movement in the facility
Transfer of colonized or suspected patients for C. auris should be done with great care. The treatment of patients should always come first, but if transfer can be prevented by using mobile equipment, this should be considered. When patients need to go to radiology, for example, they should ideally be placed at the end of the schedule to allow time for terminal decontamination of the area.

- Readmission of previous C. auris positive patient
If known, previous positive C. auris patients should be placed in contact isolation and screened on three consecutive days. Contact precautions may be stopped if all three screens are negative. Weekly screening is however recommended as C. auris may resurface after antibiotic therapy or other interventions such as chemotherapy. This is the minimum measure, as local MDRO-related guidelines that are stricter must be regarded.

- Outpatient management
Family members and healthcare providers can become colonized; however, this is of minimal risk to the “healthy” individual. There are no guidelines yet for management of C. auris-colonized patients; however, it is prudent that sharing items should be kept to a minimum in line with the principles for other fungal infections: in particular, towels and clothing should not be shared, as well as cosmetic items, creams, ointments, etc., even in the absence of studies demonstrating any effectiveness.

- Healthcare personnel education and training
Compliance with, as well as adequacy of using IPC measures is essential to prevent transmission of C. auris within the healthcare facility. To increase staff's awareness around IPC measures, on-site training and auditing is critical to contain C. auris. Training should focus on standard precautions, PPE, environmental cleaning and other IPC measures applied to control C. auris. In addition, compliance and correct execution of IPC measures should be monitored, and direct feedback to HCWs should be provided.

- Outbreak management
The index or any unexpected case colonized or infected with C. auris should be isolated in a single/isolation room and direct contacts should be placed in cohort isolation, with contact precautions and no new patients should be admitted to the affected room. Maintaining cohorts of “proven colonized”, “possibly colonized” and “no risk” patients is important under all circumstances, even if that would lead to lowered bed capacities, reduction of admitted patients or cancelation of operating procedures. As C. auris has been cultured from the hands of healthcare personnel, where possible they should be assigned to one of the cohorts, instead of working throughout the whole unit. If the outbreak is large, creation of a separate unit for all proven colonized patients might be advisable. Single use equipment or dedicated equipment should be used. A root cause analysis by Schelenz, et al. found that patients who had contact with a positive case or contaminated environment were likely to have contracted C. auris within just four hours of contact.

To confirm negative patients, three consecutive C. auris screenings should be negative. In the absence of published data, it is advisable to space out the three screening times (such as day 3-5-7), instead of doing them on day 1-2-3 or even all in a day. When de-isolated, weekly screening of the negative contact patients, until discharge, is recommended. Healthcare personnel have been identified as carriers in the nose and groin, so during an ongoing outbreak, screening of healthcare staff could be considered, as well as unannounced cultures from hands as an educational measure.

In an outbreak scenario, cleaning and disinfection should be increased to three times daily of at least all high-touch surfaces with a product effective against C. auris. Terminal cleaning and disinfection should be monitored with quality indicators that go beyond visual inspection, such as ATP or fluorescent markers, to ensure the quality of terminal cleaning and disinfection. If available, UV-C or HPV could be used after terminal cleaning and disinfection, as an additional assurance that the room has been adequately decontaminated and is safe for the next bed occupant.

No recommendations can be provided about to the effect of decolonizing patients; in theory, this may lead to a lower burden of yeast on the patient's skin and thus, a lower risk of transmission. This approach has been adopted in outbreaks; however, non-conflicted data are missing to draw that conclusion for C. auris. Currently, limited evidence on the use of topical agents for the control of skin colonization exists. In one UK major outbreak, 2 percent chlorhexidine washcloths or 4 percent chlorhexidine solution were used to control skin shedding as part of several interventions. However, despite daily CHX bathing, patients described in the UK continued to be colonized with C. auris. Chlorhexidine solutions may dry the skin in such a way that it may lead to prolonged colonization with C. auris. Some patients however remained persistently colonized, possibly due to recolonization from bedding, as Candida spp. have been demonstrated to survive on polyester textiles for up to eight days.
Mandatory national reporting of outbreaks in institutions should be considered, as well as mandatory reporting of infections with C. auris. In countries that do not have laws accounting for this, mandatory sharing of outbreak status data with regional healthcare providers is advisable.

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