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The hospital in Longueuil is battling an outbreak of a drug-resistant, deadly fungus

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Pierre Boucher Hospital on Montreal's south shore says it has contained an outbreak of a deadly, drug-resistant fungal infection through isolation and disinfection.  (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press - Photo credit)

Pierre Boucher Hospital on Montreal's south shore says it has contained an outbreak of a deadly, drug-resistant fungal infection through isolation and disinfection. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press – Photo credit)

Pierre Boucher Hospital on Montreal's south shore says it has contained an outbreak of a deadly, drug-resistant fungal infection that affected two patients.

The patients who became infected with the super fungus – known as Candida auris – were not infected with it, but were carriers, explained Dr. Julie Okapuu, a microbiologist at the hospital.

Two linked people carrying the fungus are enough to declare an outbreak, Okapuu said, noting that the cases began two weeks ago. Because they were not infected, the patients showed no symptoms but could still have spread it to others.

One of the patients died in the intensive care unit, but not because of the fungus, said a hospital spokesman. Several patients have been tested and are being monitored after having direct or indirect contact with the carriers.

“We are isolating patients, wearing gloves and gowns, we are disinfecting the entire unit and running tests on other patients to make sure they are not carriers. So far our tests have been negative,” Okapuu said.

The fungus spreads through direct contact and is not airborne, she said. It's a yeast that, once it infects a patient, becomes resistant to antifungal drugs – a problem for Quebec health authorities.

Federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos says he is concerned about the presence of the pathogen in Quebec and has asked federal health authorities to quickly gather information from the provinces to get a better picture of the situation.

Cécile Tremblay, infectious disease specialist at Center hospitalier de l'Université de Montréal (CHUM) says that C. auris primarily affects people with weakened immune systems who are already seriously ill or in the hospital. The risk of death for an infected person is 30 to 60 percent.

So far, the infection has been observed sporadically in people returning from travel, mostly after medical treatment abroad.

Okapuu says the hospital detected it early, but investigations into the origin of the fungus are ongoing.

Those who have a doctor's appointment at the hospital should not worry, she said, as the outbreak is limited to a specific unit and the risk of contracting the fungus is very low.

Dr. Karl Weiss, head of the infectious diseases department at the Jewish General Hospital in Montreal, says the work of his Longueuil colleagues to control the outbreak shows the importance of maintaining microbiology laboratories in every medical facility in Quebec.

“It's obvious, we saw it with COVID and we're seeing it again with things like this. The most important thing was to be vigilant,” said Weiss, who is also president of the provincial association of microbiologists and infectious disease specialists.