The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

June 9, 2011

Doctors advised to watch for fungal infection in injured tornado patients

From staff reports

JOPLIN, Mo. — Area health departments are advising the medical community to be aware of a fungus that has infected some patients who received wounds from flying debris in the May 22 tornado.

According to the Springfield-Greene County Health Department, the “aggressive ... soft tissue” infections have appeared in patients transferred to area hospitals from the field with lacerations that were closed at the scene.  

The fungus is known as zygomycosis, Dr. Uwe Schmidt, an infections disease specialist at Freeman Health System, said today.

It has infected at least five people at Freeman.

The fungus, which spreads rapidly in infected patients, is believed to be traced to contaminants in soil that were propelled by the storm’s 200 mile per hour winds, penetrating the skin at wound sites. The fungus was carried on flying debris, including wood shards and glass fragments.

Schmidt said the fungus generally invades underlying skin and blood vessels, ultimately cutting off the blood supply to the tissue, causing the skin to die. Treatment has included cutting away infected tissue.

The infections are not communicable, but Schmidt urges anyone who develops a wound that doesn’t heal over time, but rather spreads, to go to the hospital.

Schmidt said volunteers, contractors and others working in the disaster zone shouldn’t be alarmed by the fungus, because it is not generally airborne, but he added that if any workers did sustain an open wound, they should monitor it.