Ready or Not #217: Does It Ever End

You’ve just been in a disaster. Let’s say it was a tornado.  It was horrible.  It was the most terrifying event that you and your family have ever experienced.  Fortunately when the wind finally dies down and the silence returns, everyone is okay.  Oh sure, there are a few bumps and bruises, and even a few cuts here and there, but nothing that will need more than a couple of stitches or maybe just a bandaid.  It is all doable.  You were the lucky ones.

Unfortunately about a week or so later, that little flesh wound is quite inflamed and there are areas that look black – and you are suddenly worried.  This isn’t healing like a normal wound, what is going on?

Well, if you are in the Joplin, Missouri tornado disaster, you have been infected with a fungus.  The name of the fungus is zygomycosis (zy’-goh-my-KOH’-sihs).

As Jim Suhr and Bill Draper from the Associated Press reported:

“The infection develops in two ways: when the fungal spores are inhaled or when a tree branch or other object carrying the fungus pierces the flesh.

“Most people who get sick by inhaling the spores already have weakened immune systems or diabetes. But healthy people can become sick if the fungus penetrates their skin. The fungus blocks off blood vessels to the infected area, causing tissue to turn red and begin oozing. Eventually it becomes black.

“If diagnosed in time, the infection can be treated with intravenous medications and surgical removal of affected tissue. But it’s considered exceptionally dangerous, with some researchers reporting fatality rates of 30 percent for people infected through wounds and 50 percent for susceptible people who breathe it in.”

As if losing your house and every belonging you have ever collected wasn’t enough, now you have to worry about fungus – and a weird sounding one at that.

Now let’s change disasters.  An earthquake just shook your entire house.  It seemed as though the shaking was never going to end and then suddenly, it just got quiet.  You and your family run out to the front porch to see what happened outside and if everything is okay.  You notice that a little ways off a very large cloud of dust is coming towards you. It almost looks like one of those sandstorms that you see in the movies that just keeps rolling forward.

It is such a peculiar site and you and your family just stand there and watch it come in. The force of the earthquake created an incredibly big dust storm and it was fascinating to watch.  A few days later you were wishing that you had run back inside and had everyone put on some good quality breathing masks because now your youngest children and your elderly neighbors all have Valley fever (Coccidioidomycosis).  I remember when this happened to a family in one of the California earthquakes.

“Coccidioidomycosis (also known as “California disease”, “Desert rheumatism”, “San Joaquin valley fever”, and “Valley fever”) is a fungal disease caused by Coccidioides immitis or C. posadasii.  It is endemic in certain parts of Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Utah and northwestern Mexico.

C. immitis resides in the soil in certain parts of the southwestern United States, northern Mexico, and parts of Central and South America.  It is dormant during long dry spells, then develops as a mold with long filaments that break off into airborne spores when the rains come. The spores, known as arthroconidia, are swept into the air by disruption of the soil, such as during construction, farming, or an earthquake.  Infection is caused by inhalation of the particles. The disease is not transmitted from person to person. C. immitis is a dimorphic saprophytic organism that grows as a mycelium in the soil and produces a spherule form in the host organism.” (Wikipedia)

Really!  Another fungus?  Basically you will end up with flu like symptoms and be miserable.  It can also turn into pneumonia or even worse.

Of course there are no doctors around and because of the earthquake no one from the outside world is able to come to your town for at least two more weeks (Yes, this happened to the family in California).  So whoever gets sick is going to have to suffer it out until they can be treated at the local medical clinic – IF any antibiotics are left after treating everyone else.  Of course there will be no treatment if your town is like mine and doesn’t have a medical clinic.

Isn’t it enough that you have just endured a horrible, terrible, life-changing event, but now you or members of your family could get deathly ill on top of everything else?

The world we live in is anything but sterile.  Not only do we co-exist daily with these organisms, and many, many more, but each geographical region is going to have some exotic fungus, bacteria or virus that you probably haven’t ever thought twice about.  Usually we don’t have to worry about interacting with most of the fungi, bacteria or viruses because the little microbes and bacterium exist in undisturbed dirt, but when you throw in a little stress and lowered immune systems, a scratch or a cut, or deeply inhaled dust, suddenly we are very vulnerable to a whole lot of potential pain and suffering.

…And then you still have to deal with the over-the-top obvious, highly photographed disaster you just lived through.

Sometimes it just doesn’t seem fair does it?  But living life isn’t about being fair – as my friend says, “It is what it is.”  Knowing that, when (not if, but when) you are involved in a huge disaster, keep these things in mind.  Know the potential problems you might have in your region, store lots of WATER (like we haven’t heard THAT before) to clean ALL of your wounds thoroughly (and stay hydrated) and be first aid and medically prepared.  Buy some medical first aid books, put together an over-the-the-top incredible first aid kit and get basic first aid training.

After cleaning your wound, no matter how small, follow up with the best that you have, and if that is just a triple anti-biotic salve, then at least the wound is clean and you have a better chance of not getting the microscopic menaces that will make your life miserable.

Of course now you are going to immediately go out and buy some really good face/breathing masks for your 72-hr kit, but just in case you can’t get to them, you can always pour water over a towel or absorbable cloth and breathe through it.  The water will help catch at least some of the dust and decrease your chances of getting sick.

Those who have auto-immune diseases, compromised immune systems or are taking immune-suppressing drugs must take even more special precautions during a disaster.

Is all lost?  Of course not!  Having knowledge can sometimes seem scary when you think about all of the possibilities, but having knowledge gives you the ability to walk into situations that are not of your choosing and not be completely unaware of possible dangers.  Now you can face the unknown better prepared!

And don’t forget your water…

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