Q: What is the latest on superbug Candida auris, and how can I protect myself?

A: The organism Candida auris, or C. auris, has been making headlines all over the world as of late. It is a yeast that causes a fungal infection that is very difficult to treat because it is resistant to antifungal medications.

C. auris was first discovered in 2009 in Japan, and since has spread to more than 20 countries, including the United States, where it was first identified about two years ago. The fungus was most recently tracked in New York, New Jersey and Illinois. As of April 30, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported more than 600 cases in the U.S.

The fungus poses a significant risk to people with weakened immune systems; those who are in long-term hospitalization; those who have breathing or feeding tubes or catheters; or those who were given antibiotics or antifungal medications for a prior issue. The CDC report that 30 percent to 60 percent of cases are fatal — but in many of those cases, the person had another serious health issue that increased the likelihood of death.

This infection does have effective treatment options in the form of certain antifungal medications; but as a whole, antibiotic- and antifungal-resistant infections continue to be a threat all over the world. The World Health Organization lists several infections -- pneumonia, tuberculosis, blood poisoning, gonorrhea, and food-borne diseases -- as becoming more difficult to treat as antibiotics lose their effectiveness.

In an effort to combat this issue, health-care practitioners are focusing on antimicrobial stewardship — a coordinated effort to promote appropriate use of antimicrobial medications with the goals of improving patient outcomes, reducing microbial resistance and decreasing the spread of drug-resistant infections. What constitutes appropriate use of antimicrobial medication? Typically, the focus is on minimizing use of such medications as antibiotics and antifungals to scenarios were they are only absolutely needed.

With these classes of medications, patients can help by completing the prescribed course of medication — don’t stop it early because you feel better. Stopping early allows microbes to develop a resistance. The use of these medications varies from person to person, so it’s incredibly important for patients to discuss antibiotic or antifungal use with their health-care provider.

Other strategies that could help minimize continued resistance patterns include limiting the use of antibiotics in our food sources, and a renewed focus on developing new classes of antimicrobials.

Erik Polan, DO, is an internal medicine physician at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine.