Joplin Tornado Health Issues

Posted on June 10, 2011

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MISSOURI: Like many of you, I’ve been following the Joplin Tornado with much interest. Joplin is only 60 miles down the road from us so the story is at the top of the daily headlines. A couple of health-related stories to report:

1) There are literally thousands of people arriving here daily from all over the country to help with the cleanup effort, which will take all summer. Yes, the destruction is that bad. 8,000 homes were obliterated. Thousands more were damaged. 400 businesses were also destroyed.  A significant number of clean up volunteers have reported respiratory problems. Volunteers have been advised to wear masks. Seems a smart precaution.  Along comes the EPA who has been monitoring air quality for pesky things like asbestos. They say the air is fine. No worries. Dig through the rubble without fear. Remember all the respiratory problems that first responders and clean-up personel developed after 9-11? I’m just saying… The government is already in CYA mode.

2) Some tornado victims have died this past week from aggressive fungal infections. More than 1,700 people were injured by the tornado and most are recovering nicely. However, the fungus that has been claiming lives is commonly found in hay, grass, sweet potatoes, etc. The hospitals say the fungus was most likely imbedded in the skin and lungs by 200 mph winds. The local news began coving this story yesterday and got the obligatory brush off by both hospitals in Greene County. Of course, my first thought is basic hygiene. Have these patients been bathed since they entered the hospital? What sort of protocol do they have in place for keeping patients clean? Hospital sources have said that some of the wounds were stitched up with debris embedded in them. In an emergency triage situation, that is entirely understandable. However, more than two weeks have passed since the tornado struck and now we are getting deaths from a common and aggressive fungus literally found in your yard. Sarah Okeson from the Springfield News-Leader is covering this story for the local paper. I found one curious paragraph from today’s feature in the Springfield News-Leader:

“Park said the CDC has not received any reports of fungal infections this year involving people injured in tornadoes other than the Joplin tornado. He said the fungal infections are extremely rare and clusters of them are even rarer.”

The CDC is correct. We haven’t had a single story of victims dying in any of this year’s tornados from a fungus. Not one. The National Weather Service has an archive of 1,460,000 stories covering all the tornadoes that have occured in 2011 to date. Other than Joplin, there are no fungus death stories. Wouldn’t it be a shame if lax  hospital cleanliness standards were to blame for the Joplin deaths, and not a lowly bit of grass? It’s time to look at infection control protocols and basic hygiene practices at CoxHealth and St. Johns.

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Posted in: Missouri