MO: Poor Hygiene? Or Alien Fungus?

Posted on August 15, 2011


MO: Following the F-5 tornado that scrubbed most of Joplin, Missouri off the face of the earth in May, there was another chapter to the disaster: killer fungus. Some 13 patients turned up with fungal infections which caused such a healthcare worker panic that a team from the CDC flew in here and stayed for more than a week. (FYI: Joplin is 60 miles from HealthCare PSI’s home base.) A couple of weeks ago, the CDC issued a report that basically said it was a rare but fluke incident that shouldn’t concern the public.

I had suspicions about this fungus from the start and did a little digging. I found the fungus isn’t rare. It’s common. It’s everywhere. Lives in your yard. No other tornado sites have reported fungal infections. None. No victims of said fungus exept in Joplin. I dug further. The only other natural disaster that said fungus has turned up in was the earthquake in Haiti.

So let’s look at the comparisons between Haiti and Joplin: one’s a third world country, the other is a well-established town of 80,000, located within one hour of large city amenities. Fact is, there are no comparisons aside from the fact that after a massive natural disaster, victims were triaged and treated on-site.  I suspected a lapse in sanitary standards was the cause of this “rare fungal cluster” (the CDC’s term, not mine.)

So, when local reporter Sarah Okeson contacted me about another story last week, I asked her if she’d followed up on the Joplin fungus. Told her what I suspected. She began digging and was able to obtain copies of all emails sent between the hospitals involved, the CDC and the state health department. Turns out, the hospitals wanted to issue a statewide public health alert. The state and the CDC disagreed. The hospital issued one anyway, which had the affect of whipping people into an Area 51-style panic. Folks are afraid to work in their gardens, for-pete’s-sake, for fear the Joplin Fungus will sneak up and attack them.  I suppose a little public panic deflects the obvious question:

What are your hospital’s basic hygiene practices?

The CDC emails clearly state that all of the victims had soft tissue injuries that were treated on-site and sutured with foreign matter still in the wounds. Let them incubate for a week (especially in patients with other health conditions) and you get necrotizing fungal infections – five of which were fatal.

Where am I going with this? Each week, I get at least 3 patient-reported incidents of HAI’s contracted in SW Mo hospitals. But there is no public accountability here. No HAI reporting. No adverse event count. It’s all secret. So, for me, the fungal infections exposed an embarrassing lack of basic hygiene practices in SW Missouri’s two largest, well-funded hospital systems.

As of August 10, 1,692 tornadoes were recorded in the US for the year 2011; several of those were F-5s. More than 500 people have been killed and thousands more have been injured. Yet, the only tornado victims to get fungal infections from common yard debris embedded in their wounds were from Joplin.

(FYI: this fungus is related to the Valley Fever Pneumonia outbreak following the recent Arizona Dust Storms. In those cases, patients inhaled fungus found in the surrounding dessert and it grew in their lungs, resulting in fungal pneumonia. There were no pneumonia cases in Joplin however. These infections all originated in contaminated soft tissue wounds.)

So, take a deep breath, SW MO residents. No need to go out and put up the Area 51 signs. Alien fungus wasn’t responsible for this. There is no government cover-up of an alien conspiracy. Memo to SW MO hospitals: Would you care to answer the question I posed above?

You can read Sarah Okeson’s article here. Links to official emails are in the lower left sidebar.



Posted in: Missouri