By William Browning
The Greene County (Mo.) Health Department has issued a memo to health care workers who are treating injured victims of May’s deadly Joplin tornado, warning them that a powerful fungus has infected patients’ wounds.
The Springfield News-Leader reports as many as nine cases have been reported in tornado victims across the area in various hospitals. Once the aggressive fungus — called zygomycosis — enters the body, it causes the death of infected cells. Three or four patients, who otherwise would have survived their wounds, have died from it.
If the fungus stays in a limb, like an arm or leg, some treatments have necessitated amputation to save the patient. Others with wounds near the head weren’t so lucky — as soon as brain tissue started dying, it was too late to save the patient.
The National Institutes of Health says this rapid form of infection most often occurs in patients with suppressed immune systems. One study in 2009 noted a diabetes patient who died of the fungal infection at age 48. Despite being treated early, the man’s health rapidly declined as the fungus spread through his lungs.
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