Mold and fungi can cause health problems by producing spores which may be inhaled, or by producing toxins. Inhalation can mean development of lung disease such as pneumonia, however once in the body fungi and mold can invade the bloodstream and transfer to other organs including the heart. Recent reports surrounding the deaths of Brittany Murphy and Simon Monjack suggest that they may have succumbed to illness caused by mold or fungi. Sometimes pneumonia due to mold and fungi can go undiagnosed because routine testing is limited often to bacteria. There are several known fungal pathogens which may cause pneumonia.
Aspergillus species of fungus are a common pathogen in the respiratory systems of people with other conditions which diminish the effectiveness of their immune systems such as cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy or those with HIV. Others at risk may include diabetics, small children and the elderly. People with asthma, emphysema, cystic fibrosis or other lung conditions carry an increased risk of succumbing to aspergillosis if exposed to the fungus. Smokers may also be at increased risk. However, along with Aspergillus species, there are several different types of mold and fungi which can cause similar problems to health, even to young and otherwise healthy individuals. These include the Stachybotrys species.
Stachybotrys is a black mold which can be found growing on organic surfaces around the home or workplace. It has been identified as a potential cause of pneumonia. Although pneumonia may not develop, other health problems black mold causes may also be of concern. Symptoms may include one or more conditions such as bleeding from the nose, headaches, asthma, coughing, sinusitis, general respiratory irritation, skin rashes and fatigue.
Toxins released by mold and fungi present a hazard in the home or workplace. Repeated exposure to these toxins over time can produce illnesses termed collectively as ‘sick building syndrome’. Mold and fungi require moist environments in order to grow. To avoid mold and fungi in the home and the potential effects on health it is important to keep it dry. Any leaks should be repaired, and rising damp stopped. Carpets and wall paper may be a problem in housing showing signs of damp, and provide ideal conditions for mold and fungi to grow unnoticed. Other organic surfaces such as wood, paper, straw, and many fibrous materials should also be kept clean and dry to prevent growth of mold and fungi. Heating and air conditioning systems can also harbour harmful mold and fungi so these should be serviced regularly especially by those individuals at high risk.
Whether mold or fungi are the cause of death for Brittany Murphy and Simon Monjack is still under investigation. However, one thing is clear. If they can fall seriously ill from these agents then all of us need to take more care in our living and working environments.
Health Search Online 2010, What is Stachybotrys Mold? Viewed 26 July 2010, http://www.healthsearchonline.com/stachybotrys-mold/
Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services 2010, Mold, viewed 26 July 2010, http://www.dhss.mo.gov/IndoorAir/mold.html
The Hype 2010, Did Mould Kill Brittany Murphy and Simon Monjack, viewed 26 July 2010, http://au.thehype.yahoo.com/blog/post/-/7645105/did-mould-kill-brittany-murphy-and-simon-monjack/