A rapidly growing, flesh-eating fungus killed five people following the massive tornado that devastated Joplin, Mo. in 2011. The news of the fungus and its affects have recently emerged from two separate studies.
In 2011 a powerful tornado (Class EF-5), with 200-plus mph winds plowed through Joplin, Missouri on Sunday, May 22, 2011, initially killing 160 and injuring more than 1,000. In addition to the devastation from the powerful wind, thirteen people were infected with a type of fungus called Apophysomyces.
Apophysomyces is a common fungus. It lives in soil, wood or water and it is harmless. However, once the fungus is introduced deep into the body through a blunt trauma puncture wound, it can grow quickly if the proper medical response is not immediate. Apophysomyces infections rapidly ravage the body, quickly sealing off capillaries, shutting off the blood supply and leaving tissue to rot.
The research concluded that the Joplin infections represented the largest documented cluster of Apophysomyces infections yet recorded. It is important to note that without the multiple and deep wounds caused the by the storm, cases involving fungal infection are rare.
The identification of the fungus comes from research undertaken by the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The research was undertaken using sophisticated genetic testing.
The TGen study has been published in the New England Journal of Medicine.