Fungal Infection Strikes Joplin Tornado Victims


Friday, June 10th 2011, 4:18 pm
By: News On 6


Lacie Lowry, News On 6

JOPLIN, Missouri -- The death toll from the Joplin tornado is now up to 151 people. That includes at least three people who died after they became sick with a fungal infection.

One of the many horrors after a tornado is an extremely rare flesh-invading fungus called zygomycosis.

"It's really quite rare. I've never seen a case in over thirty years," said Dr. Craig Sanford of the American College of Emergency Physicians.

Dr. Sanford says the infections caused by exposure to a fungus found in soil and decaying vegetation. It can kill as many as half of those infected.

"With the winds, it stirs up the fungi and the spores, so we inhale them. Or if you get it on some debris, it can poke your skin," Dr. Sanford said.

The fungi are extremely invasive and start causing clots in the blood vessels.

"The blood flow doesn't go through the blood vessels and then the soft tissue or whatever tissue does not have blood flow and therefore will die," Dr. Sanford said.

The black, dead tissue has to removed.

Zygomycosis is most prevalent in people with weakened immune systems or diabetes, but can affect healthy people who have severe injuries.

Many of the patients in Joplin who had the fungus were hospitalized already with severe trauma and cuts.

"These are very tragic situations and just very unusual," Dr. Sanford said.

The infections seen in Joplin took about five to ten days to appear, which explains the delay in hearing about it after the tornado.