The genus Candida encompasses more than 150 species, only a few of which cause disease in humans. With rare exceptions (although the exceptions are increasing in number), the human pathogens are C. albicans, C. guilliermondii, C. krusei, C. parapsilosis, C. tropicalis, C. kefyr, C. lusitaniae, C. dubliniensis, and C. glabrata. Ubiquitous in nature, they inhabit the gastrointestinal tract (including the mouth and oropharynx), the female genital tract, and the skin. Although cases of candidiasis have been described since antiquity in debilitated patients, the advent of Candida species as common human pathogens dates to the introduction of modern therapeutic approaches that suppress normal host defense mechanisms. Of these relatively recent advances, the most important is the use of antibacterial agents that alter the normal human microbiota and allow nonbacterial species to become more prevalent in the commensal flora. With the introduction of antifungal agents, the causes of Candida infections shifted from an almost complete dominance of C. albicans to the common involvement of C. glabrata and the other species listed above. The non-albicans species now account for approximately half of all cases of candidemia and hematogenously disseminated candidiasis. Recognition of this change is clinically important, since the various species differ in susceptibility to the newer antifungal agents. In developed countries, where medical therapeutics are commonly used, Candida species are now among the most common nosocomial pathogens.
Candida is a small, thin-walled, ovoid yeast that measures 4–6 μm in diameter and reproduces by budding. Organisms of this genus occur in three forms in tissue: blastospores, pseudohyphae, and hyphae. Candida grows readily on simple medium; lysis centrifugation enhances its recovery from blood. Species are identified by biochemical testing (currently with automated devices) or on special agar (e.g., CHROMagar).
Candida organisms are ubiquitous in nature; worldwide, these fungi are present in humans as commensals, in animals, in foods, and on inanimate objects. In developed countries, where advanced medical therapeutics are commonly used (see “Treatment,” below), Candida species are now among the most common health care–associated pathogens. In the United States, these species are the fourth most common isolates from the blood of hospitalized patients. In countries where advanced medical care is rarely available, mucocutaneous Candida infections, such as thrush, are more common than deep organ infections, which rarely occur; however, the incidence of deep organ candidiasis increases steadily as advances in health care—such as therapy with broad-spectrum antibiotics, more aggressive treatment of cancer, and the use of immunosuppression for sustaining organ transplants—are introduced and implemented. In recent decades, as a result of the HIV epidemic, the incidence of thrush and Candida esophagitis has increased substantially. In aggregate, the global incidence of infections due to Candida species has risen steadily over the past few decades.
In the most serious form of Candida infection, the organisms disseminate hematogenously ...