EcoAlert: New Mystery Infection Attacks Tornado Victims


Several people who were injured when a tornado devastated Joplin, Mo., last month have become sickened by an uncommon, deadly fungal infection known as nfection, which is believed to be mucormycosis, is most commonly found in soil and wood. At least three have died, although public health officials said Friday that a link between the infection and the deaths was not certain.
“It is a very aggressive and severe infection,” said Dr. Benjamin Park, chief of the epidemiology team in the C.D.C.’s Mycotic Diseases Branch. “It is also very rare.”

Eight tornado victims have fallen ill from the mysterious infection, and each had “multiple injuries and secondary wound infections,” said Jacqueline Lapine, a spokeswoman for the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. Citing confidentiality rules, officials declined to discuss the treatment or condition of the patients.

Mucormycosis enters the body either via a puncture wound or when a victim breathes in its mold spores, officials said. Those who have weakened immune systems have a mortality rate as high as 90 percent. Other people at risk include those with diabetes or cancer and burn victims.

On Friday, the Jasper County coroner’s office said that 151 people died in the May 22 tornado. It is revising the toll as additional death reports come in from hospitals where tornado victims had been taken.

Even before the updated death toll was released Friday, the tornado was the deadliest in the United

Health officials said they were not aware of any other cases of mucormycosis arising from the series of tornadoes that struck the Midwest and the South this spring, killing hundreds of people and injuring thousands.

“Although this is a naturally occurring infection, to have a cluster which potentially involves this many people is highly unusual,” Dr. Park said.

Health officials said even busy hospitals around the country might see no more than a case or two of mucormycosis each year. They have asked that tornado victims from Joplin who have wounds that have failed to heal properly see a doctor immediately. It cannot be spread from person to person.

Mucormycosis and similar fungal infections that enter the skin through puncture wounds can usually be prevented once a wound is disinfected in a hospital, health officials said.

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