Combat-Related Invasive Fungal Wound Infections

Carlos J. Rodriguez*, Anuradha Ganesan, Faraz Shaikh, M. Leigh Carson, William Bradley, Tyler E. Warkentien, David R. Tribble

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Introduction: During Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, an outbreak of combat-related invasive fungal wound infections (IFIs) emerged among casualties with dismounted blast trauma and became a priority issue for the Military Health System. Methods: In 2011, the Trauma Infectious Disease Outcomes Study (TIDOS) team led the Department of Defense IFI outbreak investigation to describe characteristics of IFIs among combat casualties and provide recommendations related to management of the disease. To support the outbreak investigation, existing IFI definitions and classifications utilized for immunocompromised patients were modified for use in epidemiologic research in a trauma population. Following the conclusion of the outbreak investigation, multiple retrospective analyses using a population of 77 IFI patients (injured during June 2009 to August 2011) were conducted to evaluate IFI epidemiology, wound microbiology, and diagnostics to support refinement of Joint Trauma System (JTS) clinical practice guidelines. Following cessation of combat operations in Afghanistan, the TIDOS database was comprehensively reviewed to identify patients with laboratory evidence of a fungal infection and refine the IFI classification scheme to incorporate timing of laboratory fungal evidence and include categories that denote a high or low level of suspicion for IFI. The refined IFI classification scheme was utilized in a large-scale epidemiologic assessment of casualties injured over a 5.5-year period. Results: Among 720 combat casualties admitted to participating hospitals (2009-2014) who had histopathology and/or wound cultures collected, 94 (13%) met criteria for an IFI and 61 (8%) were classified as high suspicion of IFI. Risk factors for development of combat-related IFIs include sustaining a dismounted blast injury, experiencing a traumatic transfemoral amputation, and requiring resuscitation with large-volume (>20 units) blood transfusions. Moreover, TIDOS analyses demonstrated the adverse impact of IFIs on wound healing, particularly with order Mucorales. A polymerase chain reaction (PCR)-based assay to identify filamentous fungi and support earlier IFI diagnosis was also assessed using archived formalin-fixed, paraffin-embedded tissue specimens. Although the PCR-based assay had high specificity (99%), there was low sensitivity (63%); however, sensitivity improved to 83% in tissues collected from sites with angioinvasion. Data obtained from the initial IFI outbreak investigation (37 IFI patients) and subsequent TIDOS analyses (77 IFI patients) supported development and refinement of a JTS clinical practice guideline for the management of IFIs in war wounds. Furthermore, a local clinical practice guideline to screen for early tissue-based evidence of IFIs among blast casualties at the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center was critically evaluated through a TIDOS investigation, providing additional clinical practice support. Through a collaboration with the Uniformed Services University Surgical Critical Care Initiative, findings from TIDOS analyses were used to support development of a clinical decision support tool to facilitate early risk stratification. Conclusions: Combat-related IFIs are a highly morbid complication following severe blast trauma and remain a threat for future modern warfare. Our findings have supported JTS clinical recommendations, refined IFI classification, and confirmed the utility of PCR-based assays as a complement to histopathology and/or culture to promote early diagnosis. Analyses underway or planned will add to the knowledge base of IFI epidemiology, diagnostics, prevention, and management.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)34-41
Number of pages8
JournalMilitary Medicine
StatePublished - 1 May 2022
Externally publishedYes


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