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Fungus Strikes Joplin Tornado
Survivors and Volunteers
Thu Jun 9, 2011
Greene County (Mo.) Health Department has issued a memo to health care
workers who are treating injured victims of May's
deadly Joplin tornado, warning them that
a powerful fungus has infected patients' wounds.
Springfield News-Leader reports as many
as nine cases have been reported in tornado victims across the area in
various hospitals. Once the aggressive fungus -- called zygomycosis --
enters the body, it causes the death of infected cells. Three or four
patients, who otherwise would have survived their wounds, have died from it.
fungus stays in a limb, like an arm or leg, some treatments have
necessitated amputation to save the patient. Others with wounds near the
head weren't so lucky -- as soon as brain tissue started dying, it was too
late to save the patient.
National Institutes of Health says this
rapid form of infection most often occurs in patients with suppressed immune
systems. One study in 2009 noted a diabetes patient who died of the fungal
infection at age 48. Despite being treated early, the man's health rapidly
declined as the fungus spread through his lungs.
Infections spread through the blood and affects blood circulation. It is
unknown how many people may be suffering from infections, but the problem
doesn't stop with those injured by the tornado.
KYTV in Springfield reports those
helping with cleanup efforts may become scratched by nails or splinters and
any fungus residue on those objects may infect someone.
with diabetes should be extremely careful. The
National Institutes of Health lists
severe symptoms of the infection: fever, headache, sinus pain, and swelling.
Complications that can arise from these fungal infections include nerve
damage, blindness, blood clots to the brain and lungs, or even death in
of the deadly fungal infection have shown up in massive disasters before
such as the 2004 tsunami off the coast of Indonesia. Health officials in
Greene County stated in their memo that this particular infection is
"invasive" and that aggressive treatment may be needed "within 24 hours" of
patients suspected of having this infection have been told to seek the
guidance of a trauma surgeon or the infectious disease doctor on call.
William Browning, a lifelong Missouri resident, writes about local and state
issues for the Yahoo! Contributor Network. Born in St. Louis, Browning
earned his bachelor's degree in English from the University of Missouri. He
currently resides in Branson.