Killer fungus that can infect the public from tornadoes

2012-12-16 12:23

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is warning the public about a killer fungus that can spread after a natural disaster occurs. The fungus killed 5 people following the tornado disaster that occurred in Joplin, Missouri. Scientists discovered the flesh-eating fungus that infected 13 people by decoding the billions of chemical letters in the fungus' DNA. More information about the flesh and bone eating mold is highlighted in a recent study.

Researchers for the study that is published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) say the finding is especially important for health officials. Identifying molds that normally don't cause harm to humans and intervening early can lead to better outcomes.

The fungus, known as Apophysomyces, is " 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, involved in unraveling the genome sequencing that helped identify the fungus.

Engelthaler was the senior author of the PLOS One study, and a contributing author of the NEJM study.

Researchers tracked 13 people infected with the fungus during the Class EF-5 tornado. Injuries caused by blunt trauma or a puncture wound can introduce the fungus into the body where it grows quickly. Five people died within 2 weeks.

The fungus that grows in soil and water usually doesn't cause harm unless it penetrates the skin. Lesions form that destroy the soft tissue of the body, eating away at flesh and bone. According to the CDC, infection with the spore can cause "rapid and fatal" disease in humans and is often unreported because it's difficult to identify.


When the fungus enters the body it seals of capillaries that supply blood to the skin, causing it to rot. "It's unlike anything you've ever seen before," said Engelthaler. It's unreal. It looks like there is no way this person can be alive."


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