Tornado-Related Fungus

Fungus information
Zygomycosis (mucormycosis) is an infection caused by a naturally-occurring fungus found in soil and decaying plants. Though rare, in most cases, it affects those with underlying health conditions such as diabetes, cancer, and those taking long-term steroids, but it can also become active after natural disasters. A few cases have been reported in the aftermath of the May 22 Joplin tornado in patients with puncture wounds and severe lacerations. The fungus does not travel from person to person and does not affect intact skin. Anyone with concerns about wounds that are not healing properly should follow-up immediately with their medical provider. This is a serious infection.

Because Joplin has sustained serious structural damage, there is a great amount of dirt and dust associated with the demolition of many of our buildings. Workers in affected areas should take normal precautions against injury, infection, and airborne contaminants:

  1. Wear protective gear when cleaning up debris. Protective gear includes dust mask, goggles to cover your eyes, heavy duty work gloves, and sturdy shoes.
  2. Take frequent breaks.
  3. Drink plenty of water.
  4. Take a bath or shower after clean-up activities.
  5. Launder work clothes before wearing again.
  6. Wash hands frequently, especially before eating or touching your face.
  7. Receive a tetanus shot if you have not had one within the last 5 years. If you don’t remember your last one, get another.
  8. Do not participate in clean-up activities if you have a chronic medical condition.

If you develop a sore or puncture wound:

  1. Clean the wounds with soap and water. You may place antibiotic ointment on it.
  2. Keep it covered.
  3. If it develops redness, drainage, pain, pus, or hardness, see your medical provider immediately.
  4. If you have received medical attention due to the storm, make sure you keep your appointments and follow-up with your medical provider.