Deadly Fungus Strikes Joplin Tornado Survivors, Volunteers

The 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.

The 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.

If the 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.

The 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.

Anyone 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 extreme cases.

Cases 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 reoccurring symptoms.

Any 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.

SOURCE: http://news.yahoo.com/s/ac/20110609/us_ac/8612835_deadly_fungus_strikes_...