There are strong indications that many victims of the Joplin tornado have come down with zygomycosis.
Dr. Uwe Schmidt, an infectious disease specialist at Freeman Health System in Joplin, said three of those patients who contracted zygomycosis have since died, but he stopped short of blaming their deaths specifically on the infections.
"These people had multiple traumas, pneumonia, all kinds of problems," Schmidt said. "It's difficult to say how much the fungal infections contributed to their demise."
Jacqueline Lapine, a spokeswoman for the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, said the department has received reports of eight suspected deep-skin fungal infections among victims of the tornado. She said all of the victims had sustained trauma from the tornado with multiple injuries and secondary wound infections.
The disease is very common among victims of natural disasters. It can be caused by soil or vegetative material getting embedded under the skin. Under normal circumstances, it is common for people with weak immune systems or undiagnosed diabetes. People who had signs of infection began showing up as early as a week after the twister.
The CDC's Benjamin Park says this disease is serious business.
"These fungal infections are usually quite serious, and often have a case-fatality rate of 50 percent or higher," Park said in an email to The Associated Press. "Although persons with weakened immune systems and those with diabetes are the most common risk groups, otherwise healthy people can develop infection, particularly after a traumatic wound. Skin infection usually occurs following traumatic inoculation of the fungal spores into the skin."
Park also says that anyone with a traumatic skin injury that isn't healing should get to a doctor ASAP.
This disease is extremely invasive. The mold spreads so fast that it kills the tissue and cuts off circulation to the underlying blood vessels.