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Deadly fungus killing Joplin tornado survivors, rescue workers

Jonathan Benson, staff writer

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(NaturalNews) Cleanup and rescue efforts are not the only major concern in the wake of the recent mega-tornado that ravaged Joplin, Mo., and various nearby areas. Recent reports indicate that zygomycosis, a rare but deadly fungal infection, is afflicting both injured victims that have open wounds, and even some rescue workers that are contracting it from tainted debris.

According to the Springfield News-Leader, there have been nine confirmed cases of infection from the fungus, and at least four patients have died from it. The fungus allegedly spreads throughout the body and kills the cells it infects, which eventually kills the victim. If the infection is caught early enough in less serious areas like legs or arms, some victims may survive. However, nothing could be done to help one patient whose brain became infected.

Also known as murcomycosis, the rare, deadly fungus is said to live in soil, where it infects people who inhale it. Once embedded in the sinuses, the fungus spreads to the lungs where it eventually spreads throughout the entire body. Symptoms of infection include redness, swelling, pain or tenderness, unusual heat near wounds, and inflammation.

"People who have wounds that are not improving should seek medical attention immediately," said Dr. Benjamin Park, a medical officer from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), concerning general injury from the tornado.

The Los Angeles Times reports that the first observed cases of murcomycosis following the massive Joplin tornado appeared as visibly white, fluffy mold growing on victims' wounds. Rescue doctors were quick to remove both the mold and surrounding skin as they came across it. But in some cases, the fungus had already invisibly spread to other areas where it could not be effectively treated.

"The so-called subcutaneous form of the fungus is not very common," said Dr. Uwe Schmidt, an infectious disease specialist from the Freeman Health System in Joplin, who was one of the first to observe cases of infection following the disaster. "I have never seen it myself before, and to suddenly see this cluster was quite striking."

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June 14, 2011