Latest Horror From Joplin: Flesh-Invading Fungus Kills Three

The fungal infection usually only strikes those with weakened immune systems

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Joplin residents just can't catch a break this month. An aggressive fungal infection struck at least five victims of the Joplin tornado, according to a doctor at one of the town's hospitals. Three of those patients, who also suffered multiple traumas, have died. Otherwise extremely rare, zygomycosis, also known as mucormycosis, is an infection caused by exposure to a certain fungus and kills over half of those infected. The situation under which the Joplin victims contracted the infection sounds utterly awful:

In the aftermath of the tornado, Freeman Health System treated more than 1,700 patients. Doctors from St. John's Hospital, which was hit by the twister, treated patients at makeshift facilities. Schmidt said some wounds that were stitched up had to be reopened because they weren't adequately cleaned....

A week after the tornado patients began arriving with fungal infections.

"We could visibly see mold in the wounds," Schmidt said. "It rapidly spread. The tissue dies off and becomes black. It doesn't have any circulation. It has to be removed."

Schmidt said the infection is sometimes seen in survivors of mass trauma such as the 2004 tsunami in Indonesia.

"This fungus invades the underlying tissue and actually invades the underlying blood vessels and cuts off the circulation to the skin," Schmidt said. "It's very invasive."

Other symptoms include fever, coughing, vomiting blood, and many cases result in blindness.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.