Doctors treating victims hurt badly in Monday’s devastating Moore, Okla., tornado should be alert for a rare but deadly complication of wind-whipped debris: fungal infections like those that killed five people after the Joplin, Mo., twister in 2011.

That’s the word from government experts in fungal infections, who documented 13 serious cases of necrotizing cutaneous mucormycosis -- terrible soft tissue infections -- after the Joplin tornado, including instances when visible mold started growing from the patients’ wounds.

“We want to encourage clinicians to be aware that these infections can happen,” said Dr. Benjamin Park, chief epidemiologist with the mycotic diseases branch at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

It's not yet clear whether any fungal infections are suspected in the victims of this week's disaster. In Joplin, it took five days for the first infections to show up; within 10 days, 10 patients had been identified. 

"In the chaos of everything, it's very hard," said Dr. Gary Wells, medical director for the Norman Regional Health System emergency department, who was at the initial triage site during Monday's storm. "It is something you keep in the back of your mind."

Early detection and diagnosis are key to treating the infections, which occur when molds usually found in dirt, decaying wood and other matter become airborne during a heavy storm.  

“When they are picked up out of their natural environment and injected into the skin, we’re always concerned about infection,” Park said.

 

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