Studies by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Translational Genomics Research Institute focused on the deaths from infections in the Joplin, Mo., 2011 tornado disaster zone.
They found some were infected by the fungus Apophysomyces, which is common in the soil, wood or water. It usually has no effect on humans.
But when it is stirred up by tornado-force winds and enters deep puncture wounds caused by debris, it can spread uncontrollably through the body if not caught early.
Five of the 13 people infected with it around Joplin died within two weeks of the tornado that devastated the community.
Once the infection begins to ravage the body, the only option is to surgically remove sections of dead, damaged or infected tissue, in a process known as debridement.
“There's clearly an entire world out there that we're not seeing on a regular basis. It takes a severe event like this tornado for us to come face-to-face with some of the more dangerous pathogens out there,” said David Engelthaler, former State of Arizona Epidemiologist.