Climate Change Exacerbates Mold Concerns, Highlighted by Ian

increasingly frequent storms, floods add to household mold issues

By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer

The rains that lead to moldy houses are increasing due to climate change. Professionals have come to this consensus after looking at patterns of heat and rainfall. Environmental mold is a fungal problem in the home.

Cleaning mold with gloves and cleaning supplies
When applied to household mold, a mixture of common household bleach and water usually gets rid of it. Photo by Yavdat / Shutterstock

Hurricane Ian devastated the southern part of the East Coast of the United States, leaving dozens dead and causing tens of billions of dollars in property damage. Amid the aftermath of the storm, mold remediators and other domestic health and safety experts got to work assessing the damage. Within their industry, they’ve found that an increase in flooding, rainfall, and intense heat—all caused by climate change—are leading to greater amounts of mold, in a greater number of homes.

Mold isn’t just ugly and smelly; it’s also a fungal issue that can cause health issues. In his video series An Introduction to Infectious Diseases, Dr. Barry C. Fox, Clinical Professor of Infectious Disease at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, explains the nature and concerns of environmental mold.

Household Mold

“You might be surprised to know that in spite of the ‘clean’ air in our home, outside, there are actually thousands of fungal mold spores that are floating around, invisible in the air,” Dr. Fox said. “Normally, our immune system is sufficiently strong that occasional spores that land in our lungs do not cause infections. In patients with compromised immune systems, these spores can enter the lung, and cause an established fungal infection of the lung.”

When it comes to immuno-compromised patients, the most common mold to cause an infection is called Aspergillus. Dr. Fox said that Aspergillus is a considerable problem among transplant recipients, because up to 5 percent of them may die from fungal infections when it’s inhaled into the lungs and their immune systems can’t compensate for it.

But even with a fully healthy immune system, if the home were filled with an elevated count of fungal mold spores, problems can get worse.

“Some individuals may manifest non-life-threatening, yet annoying allergic symptoms from mold, similar to hay fever allergies,” Dr. Fox said. “Those already with allergies may notice the allergies being noticeably more severe.”

Breaking the Mold

Scientists have developed a number of antifungal drugs in order to treat various fungal conditions. Some of them are topical, like the often used gentian violet, which treated ringworm but caused people to turn purple for a short time.

“The prototype antifungal medications are known as azole drugs,” Dr. Fox said. “They interrupt the cell wall synthesis in fungi, blocking ergosterol production and leading to the incomplete synthesis of the cell wall. Since fungi do not replicate as quickly as bacteria, and they have a slower growth rate of metabolism, antifungal therapy needs to be continued for longer than antibiotics.”

According to Dr. Fox, there are two other antifungal drugs of note that are used to treat systemic infections. These are the echinocandin medications and amphotericin. He said that echinocandins disrupt the cross linking of the fungal cell wall, while amphotericin can directly attack the fungal cell wall. This causes alterations in its permeability, followed by fungal cell death.

An Introduction to Infectious Diseases is now available to stream on Wondrium.

Edited by Angela Shoemaker, Wondrium Daily