A fast growing, flesh-eating fungus killed 5 people following a massive tornado that devastated Joplin, Mo., according to two new studies based on genomic sequencing by the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Health officials should be aware of infections caused by the fungus Apophysomyces, according to the studies, which tracked 13 people infected by the pathogen during the Class EF-5 tornado — the most powerful category — whose 200-plus mph winds plowed through Joplin on May 22, 2011, initially killing 160 and injuring more than 1,000.
The common fungus — which lives in soil, wood or water — usually has no effect on people. But once it is introduced deep into the body through a blunt trauma puncture wound, it can grow quickly if the proper medical response is not immediate, the studies said. Five of the 13 people infected through injuries suffered during the Joplin tornado died within two weeks.
“Increased awareness of fungi as a cause of necrotizing soft-tissue infections after a natural disaster is warranted … since early treatment may improve outcomes,” concluded one study published Dec. 6 in The New England Journal of Medicine.
Using whole genome sequencing, which decoded the billions of chemical letters in the fungus’ DNA, TGen scientists concluded that the Joplin infections represented the largest documented cluster of Apophysomyces infections, according to a study published Nov. 27 in the journal PLOS One.
“This is one of the most severe fungal infections that anyone’s ever seen,” said David Engelthaler, Director of Programs and Operations for TGen’s Pathogen Genomics Division. Engelthaler was the senior author of the PLOS One study, and a contributing author of the NEJM study.
Science Brief thanks to EurekAlert.
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Fungus responsible for 5 deaths in the wake of massive tornado
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