July 30, 2011 / 4:25 PM / 8 years ago

Five deaths from Joplin tornado linked to fungal infection

Crews use an excavator to begin clearing dilapidated houses destroyed in the May 22 tornado in Joplin on June 1, 2011. REUTERS/Sarah Conard

KANSAS CITY, Mo (Reuters) - Injuries sustained from wood splinters or other materials triggered a rare fungal infection that may have contributed to the deaths of five people in the May 22 tornado in Joplin, Mo., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has determined.

In all, 13 people contracted the mucormycetes-born illness, the CDC said in a report released Friday. The CDC said it has seen multiple fungal infections of that type after other natural disasters such as hurricanes but never after a tornado.

The May 22 twister killed 160 people in Joplin and destroyed about 30 percent of the city. Jasper County Coroner Rob Chappel and physicians had reported the fungal infections, but the CDC is the first official confirmation of the numbers of victims.

“It’s about what we expected,” Chappel said Saturday. He said he was glad to learn from the report that none of the fungal infection victims sustained their injuries while cleaning up debris.

Chappel said he is curious whether any investigation finds something unusual about debris in Joplin that caused the infections. The CDC said the fungi in question is typically found in soil, decaying wood or other organic matter.

The 13 patients had an average of four wounds, the CDC said. Ten patients required admission to intensive care and five of those died, the CDC said. The ages of the 13 victims ranged from 13 to 76 years old.

Writing and reporting by Kevin Murphy; Editing by Mary Wisniewski and Tim Gaynor

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