A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that natural disasters can create conditions that put survivors at risk for fungal infections, which are often overlooked.
Natural disasters were found to create conditions that put survivors at risk for these fungal infections. How dangerous and common are they?
Earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes and other natural disasters can displace harmful fungi from their natural habitat, potentially bringing them into contact with injured and vulnerable people, the report said. Individuals may inhale fungal spores, or the spores can find their way into wounds, resulting in infections.
Are people really being exposed to contamination?
Yes. After the devastating 2011 tornado in Joplin, MO, 13 severely injured people developed a rare fungal infection called mucormycosis. The type of fungus that causes this infection is found in the soil and decaying organic matter that victims were exposed to as a result of the disaster.
Following a 1994 earthquake near Los Angeles, more than 200 people developed a fungal infection called coccidioidomycosis, also known as Valley Fever. Landslides and aftershocks caused by the earthquakes generated dust clouds, which dispersed soil fungus that people inhaled.
What health problems are being reported?
200 individuals in Los Angeles developed the fungal infection called coccidioidomycosis. Coccidioides is a fungus found in the soil of dry, low rainfall areas. It is endemic (native and common) in many areas of the southwestern United States, Mexico, Central and South America. Coccidioidomycosis, also known as Valley Fever, is a common cause of pneumonia in endemic areas.
At least 30% – 60% of people who live in an endemic region are exposed to the fungus at some point during their lives. In most people the infection will go away on its own, but for people who develop severe infections or chronic pneumonia, medical treatment is necessary.
Certain groups of people are at higher risk of developing severe disease. It is difficult to avoid exposure to Coccidioides, but people who are at higher risk should try to avoid breathing in large amounts of dust if they are in endemic areas. (CDC.gov, 2014). It was recommended for individuals to use protective clothing and breathing masks following a natural disaster to avoid the risk of inhalation.
Following the 2011 tornado in Joplin, MO, 13 injured people developed a rare fungal infection called mucormycosis. Mucormycosis (also called zygomycosis) is a rare infection caused by organisms that belong to a group of fungi called Mucoromycotina in the order Mucorales. At one time these fungi were called Zygomycota, but this scientific name has recently been changed.
These fungi are typically found in the soil and in association with decaying organic matter, such as leaves, compost piles, or rotten wood (CDC.gov, 2014).
Who are at risk?
The individuals at risk are the severely injured during the natural disasters and anyone that inhales the fungal spores.
How are health or government agencies communicating the risk?
According to the article strategies to reduce disaster-associated fungal infections should be considered within the broader context of comprehensive and sustainable risk-reduction methods to prevent disaster-related injury and illness. The article did not discuss current health or government agency communication regarding this risk but did offer some suggestions.
The article gave some advice for health professionals and stated that health care providers should be aware of the potential for people to develop fungal infections after natural disasters, so that treatment can be started early, the report said.
Fungal infections are sometimes mistaken for other illnesses, such as bacterial infections, which can delay appropriate treatment. After the Los Angeles earthquake, for example, 93 percent of Valley Fever sufferers received one or more antibiotics before their fungal infection was diagnosed.
The report stated that these fungal infections are uncommon with people that are healthy and therefore some doctors may not know to diagnose it as a fungal infection. The article suggested that doctors should consider fungal infections when antibiotics are not responding as a treatment.
This article was written by the DayOne Gear Team on March 7, 2014.