Healthcare-Associated Fungal Infections
Patients in healthcare facilities, such as a hospital, long-term acute care, or skilled nursing facility, are at risk for infections, referred to as healthcare associated infections (HAIs). Some HAIs are fungal, like aspergillosis, candidemia, C. auris infections, and mucormycosis.
Why Patients are at Risk
Many patients have weakened immune systems while they are recovering from surgeries, being treated for illnesses like cancer, or taking certain medications. Additionally, some necessary medical devices and treatments, like catheters and ventilators, also create opportunities for fungi and other pathogens (germs) to enter and infect the body. As a result patients can develop invasive infections, severe infections that affect the blood, heart, brain, eyes, or other parts of the body.
Some fungal HAIs can cause outbreaks. For example, the disease-causing fungus C. auris, spreads easily in healthcare settings and there have been outbreaks of mucormycosis (a type of mold) caused by contaminated linen, ventilation systems, or nearby construction. Less common, outbreaks can be caused by contaminated medications or supplies used in surgeries or procedures.
Preventing fungal healthcare-associated infections (HAIs) is a critical part of patient care and outcomes. There are guidelines to prevent and control HAIs in healthcare facilities for providers, managers, and staff. Patients and their families can learn more about fungal infections and risks. Being informed can help patients stay safe and help everyone to recognize signs and symptoms right away.
Healthcare workers play a role in preventing infections in hospitalized patients. Please visit CDC’s HAI prevention page for more details.
What you need to know about fungal infections
Fungal infections can range from mild to life-threatening. Some fungal infections are mild skin rashes, but others can be deadly, like fungal pneumonia or bloodstream infections. Because of this, it’s important to get treatment as soon as possible to try to avoid serious infection.
Life-saving devices like central venous catheters (a special kind of IV tube) can increase your risk for fungal infection. During your hospital stay you may need a central venous catheter, which is a type of IV placed into a large vein reaching close to the heart, to give medications or liquids. This can make it easier for fungi to enter your body and increase your chances of getting a fungal bloodstream infection such as candidemia.1, 2
Disease-causing fungi can enter your body through cuts, wounds, and burns. Fungi naturally live on your skin, in your body, and on healthcare workers’ hands. These fungi can enter your body through cuts and wounds and cause infection during a hospital stay, especially if your wounds are severe.3
Staying in the intensive care unit (ICU). If you’re in the ICU because you’re critically ill or injured, you’re likely to need life-saving devices or procedures that can put you at risk for fungal infections, particularly Candida and Aspergillus infections.4
Surgery can lead to infection. If you’ve had surgery, it’s possible to get a fungal infection in the part of the body where the surgery took place. Surgical site infections are often caused by bacteria, but can also be caused by fungi.
Hospital construction. Outbreaks of aspergillosis have happened among very sick patients staying at hospitals where there is ongoing construction or renovation.5 This is thought to be because construction stirs up the amount of fungal spores in the air.
What You Can Do
Fungi are difficult to avoid because they are a natural part of the environment. Fungi live outdoors in soil, on plants, trees, and other vegetation. They are also on many indoor surfaces and on your skin. However, there may be some ways for you to lower your chances of getting a serious fungal infection.
Learn about fungal infections. There are different types of fungal infections. Learning about them can help you and your healthcare provider recognize the symptoms early, which may prevent serious illness.
Take medications as directed. Your healthcare provider may prescribe antifungal medications to prevent fungal infections. Scientists are still learning about which patients are at highest risk and how best to prevent fungal infections.3
Be a safe patient. There are some actions that you can take to help protect yourself from infections, including:
- Speak up. Talk to your doctor about any worries you have about your safety and ask them what they are doing to protect you.
- Keep hands clean. If you do not see your providers clean their hands, please ask them to do so. Also remind your loved ones and visitors. Washing hands can prevent the spread of germs.
- For more tips on how to be a safer patient, please see What You Can Do to Be a Safe Patient.
What to do after leaving the hospital. If you have a weakened immune system, you may still be at risk for getting a fungal infection after you leave the hospital. For more information about different health conditions and fungal infections, please see the links below:
- Pfaller MA, Diekema DJ. Epidemiology of invasive candidiasis: a persistent public health problem. Clin Microbiol Rev 2007;20:133-63.
- Vincent JL, Anaissie E, Bruining H, et al. Epidemiology, diagnosis and treatment of systemic Candida infection in surgical patients under intensive care. Intensive Care Med 1998;24:206-16.
- Alangaden GJ. Nosocomial fungal infections: epidemiology, infection control, and prevention. Infect Dis Clin North Am 2011;25:201-25.
- Zilberberg MD, Shorr AF. Fungal infections in the ICU. Infect Dis Clin North Am 2009;23:625-42.
- Haiduven D. Nosocomial aspergillosis and building construction. Med Mycol 2009;47 Suppl 1:S210-6.