June 2011

Dr. Andrew Campbell discusses some of the ways exposure to toxigenic molds and mycotoxins affect the human body.

Abstract

Damp buildings often have a moldy smell or obvious mold growth; some molds are human pathogens. This has caused concern regarding health effects of moldy indoor environments and has resulted in many studies of moisture- and mold-damaged buildings.

Recently, there have been reports of severe illness as a result of indoor mold exposure, particularly due to Stachybotrys chartarum. While many authors describe a direct relationship between fungal contamination and illness, close examination of the literature reveals a confusing picture. Here, we review the evidence regarding indoor mold exposure and mycotoxicosis, with an emphasis on S. chartarum. We also examine possible end-organ effects, including pulmonary, immunologic, neurologic, and oncologic disorders.

We discuss the Cleveland infant idiopathic pulmonary hemorrhage reports in detail, since they provided important impetus for concerns about Stachybotrys. Some valid concerns exist regarding the relationship between indoor mold exposure and human disease. Review of the literature reveals certain fungus-disease associations in humans, including ergotism (Claviceps species), alimentary toxic aleukia (Fusarium), and liver disease (Aspergillys). While many papers suggest a similar relationship between Stachybotrys and human disease, the studies nearly uniformly suffer from significant methodological flaws, making their findings inconclusive.

As a result, we have not found well-substantiated supportive evidence of serious illness due to Stachybotrys exposure in the contemporary environment. To address issues of indoor mold-related illness, there is an urgent need for studies using objective markers of illness, relevant animal models, proper epidemiologic techniques, and examination of confounding factors.

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