Debris from Missouri tornado causes deadly fungal infection

Tornado ripping through Joplin

Tornado ripping through Joplin

Residents in Joplin, Missouri are just getting to grips with the aftermath of the horrific tornado that tore through their town last month which blazed through a six-mile stretch killing 151 people and destroying some 6,000 homes and many other buildings.

Now, it appears that flying debris from the tornado is now the cause of a rare but serious fungal infection which can be deadly in some cases.

Casualties of the tornado whose skin was penetrated by debris are now fighting a new battle to safeguard
themselves. Debris which had soil and plant matter which penetrated the skin of some victims is causing an infection called zygomycosis.

Uwe Schmidt, an infectious diseases physician at Freeman Health System in Joplin knows of at least nine patients who have contracted the infection since the disaster; three or four of them died. Schmidt believes zygomycosis was a factor in all the deaths, if not the actual cause.

Not often seen by infectious disease professionals, to witness such a high number of cases is extremely rare.

Schmidt admits up until now he had previously only seen two cases of zygomycosis in his career.

All victims experience pain, swelling and skin discoloration, all signs which typically appear five to 10 days after the tornado. However, depending on a person’s age, health and wounds suffered, some cases could still surface. The infection can be deadly if left undiagnosed, is it spreads rapidly and invades the blood supply.

Several people have been treated for zygomycosis in a neighboring county, but there has been no confirmation of whether any of those patients has died.

Luckily, there is a treatment available to stop the zygomycosis from invading the body. Intravenous anti-fungal medication and removal of damaged skin tissue is the appropriate course of action.

Public health departments in the Joplin region have notified doctors and hospitals of the possibility for zygomycosis infection to ensure all patients injured in the tornado are carefully looked to.

See the aftermath of the Joplin tornado here:

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