As winter approaches doctors are warning that wet washing dried indoors can pose a serious health threat for people with weakened immune systems or severe asthma.
Experts have found that clothes put on drying frames or draped over warm radiators raises moisture levels in our homes by up to 30 per cent creating ideal breeding conditions for mould spores – and one in particular called aspergillus fumigatus, which can cause lung infections which for some of us can prove fatal.
Father of three Craig Mather from Bolton knows first hand the damage it can do. For years he dried washing in his bedroom and thought nothing of it. But when he contracted TB in 1997, the disease left his lungs weak and aggravated the problems he had been left with after childhood asthma.
Craig (43) and a fast food manager, explains: "I only started to recover when my consultant diagnosed chronic pulmonary aspergillosis and prescribed me special drugs to fight the fungal infection. However, I noticed coughing fits and night sweats particularly when I had wet washing drying on the warm bedroom radiator. He told me that it could be making my problems worse, so for the last 12 months I haven’t dried my clothes indoors and I’ve notice a huge improvement in my health. I can’t do strenuous physical activity, but I am off the drugs and only have to go back to the clinic for check ups every four months – and I’m able to ride my bike again."
Professor David Denning and his team at the National Aspergillosis Centre*, in Manchester, have issued the wet washing warning after treating a growing number of patients who have developed the condition from inhaling the Aspergillus fungal spores.
He explains: "It's estimated that as many as 87 per cent of us dry our clothes indoors in the winter. One load of wet washing contains almost two litres of water, which is released into the room."
"Most of us are either immune to the fungus which grows in these humid conditions, or have a sufficiently healthy system to fight the infection. But, in asthma sufferers it can produce coughing and wheezing, and in people with weak or damaged immune systems, such as cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy, Aids patients and people who have an auto immune disease like Craig, the fungus can cause pulmonary aspergillosis – a condition which can cause irreparable, and sometime fatal, damage to the lungs and sinuses."
"My advice would be when in doubt dry wet washing outside, in a tumble dryer or in a well ventilated indoor space away from bedrooms and living areas be safe rather than sorry," he adds.
*This is the first centre in the world dedicated to aspergillosis. It is based at Wythenshawe Hospital, UHSM, in Manchester for the diagnosis and treatment of chronic pulmonary aspergillosis, and houses specialist diagnostics and research into all forms of aspergillosis.
To speak with Professor Denning call 0161 291 5811 or mobile 07802 482193, For more information please contact Susan Osborne, director of communications at The Goodwork Organisation on 07836 229208.
Notes to editors
A recent study of 100 homes by the Mackintosh Environmental Architecture Research Unit in Glasgow found aspergillus fumigatus mould spores present in 25 per cent of the properties, and has said more homes should be designed with covered outdoor drying spaces, such as balconies, or well-ventilated drying cupboards to lower the health risk.
What is aspergillosis?
Diseases caused by the fungus Aspergillus are called aspergillosis. The severity of aspergillosis is determined by various factors, but one of the most important is a weakened immune system. Infections can affect any area of the body, but by far the most common are the lungs and sinuses. There are several distinct types of aspergillosis as described briefly below.
Aspergilloma and chronic pulmonary aspergillosis
In this disease the fungus - usually Aspergillus fumigatus - grows within a cavity of the lung, which was previously damaged during another lung illness such as tuberculosis or sarcoidosis. The spores penetrate the cavity and germinate; if a fungal ball forms within the cavity it is called an aspergilloma.
Any lung disease that causes cavities in a lung can leave a person open to developing an aspergilloma see underlying diseases. In some people, cavities in the lung are formed by Aspergillus, and no fungal ball is present. The fungus secretes toxic and allergic products, which may make the person feel ill. The person affected may have no symptoms (especially early on). Weight loss, chronic cough, and feeling rundown and tired are common symptoms. Coughing of blood (haemoptysis) can occur in up to 50-90% of affected people and can be severe.
Allergic bronchopulmonary aspergillosis (ABPA)
This is a condition, where a person develops an allergy to the spores of the Aspergillus moulds. Asthmatic patients can be allergic to Aspergillus spores - up to 5% of asthmatics might get this at some time during their lives.
ABPA is also common in cystic fibrosis patients, as they reach adulthood. The symptoms are similar to those of asthma: intermittent episodes of feeling unwell, coughing and wheezing.
People with invasive aspergillosis usually have a fever and some lung symptoms (may be a cough, chest pain, discomfort or breathlessness) that do not respond to standard antibiotics. This condition is usually only diagnosed in a person with low defenses such as a bone marrow transplant patient, following cancer treatment, or AIDS patients or major burns cases. There is also a rare inherited condition that gives people low immunity (chronic granulomatous disease) that puts affected people at moderate risk.
Chest X-rays and CT scans show abnormalities and help to locate the disease. Bronchoscopy (inspection of the inside of the lung with a small tube inserted via the nose) is often used to help to confirm the diagnosis along with cultures and blood tests.
In people with particularly poor immune systems, the fungus can transfer from the lung through the blood stream to the brain or to other organs, including the eye, the heart, the kidneys and the skin. Usually this is a bad sign as the condition is more severe and the person is very ill. This condition can be fatal and the best chance of survival is with an early diagnosis and early treatment with antifungals.
Aspergillus disease can happen in the sinuses leading to Aspergillus sinusitis. Just as in the lungs, Aspergillus can cause the three diseases in the sinus - allergic sinusitis, a fungal ball or invasive sinus aspergillosis. The fungal ball caused by Aspergillus happens in a similar way to an aspergilloma. In those with normal immune systems, stuffiness of the nose, chronic headache or discomfort in the face is common.
When patients have damaged immune systems - if, for example they have had cancer or have had a bone marrow transplant - Aspergillus sinusitis is more serious. In these cases the sinusitis is a form of invasive aspergillosis. The symptoms include fever, facial pain, nasal discharge and headaches. Diagnosis is made by finding the fungus in fluid or tissue from the sinuses and with scans.
There are a number of antifungal drugs that are used to treat aspergillus infections - each type of aspergillosis may require different medication, this is described in more detail here, with patient information leaflets also available. The principle antifungal drugs used for the treatment of aspergillosis are Amphotericin B, Itraconazole, Voriconazole, Posaconazole, Caspofungin and Flucytosine. Some resistant strains of Aspergillus species have been identified so antifungal drug resistance is monitored alongside blood levels of a drug to check optimal dosing.
Professor David Denning FRCP FRCPath FMedSci
Professor of infectious disease and global health, The University of Manchester and director, National Aspergillosis Centre, University Hospital of South Manchester (Wythenshawe), Manchester, UK
David Denning is an infectious diseases clinician with expertise in fungal diseases. He is Director of the National Aspergillosis Centre, Manchester, UK that sees over 300 new patients annually with aspergillosis. He leads a multi-disciplinary research and clinical group, spanning fundamental genomics to randomised and phase 4 clinical trials in fungal diseases (infection and allergy). Major past contributions include describing azole resistance and mechanisms in Aspergillus, leading the effort to sequence the A. fumigatus genome (3 papers published in Nature), leading the phase 2 study and then RCT demonstrating the superiority of voriconazole over amphotericin B for invasive aspergillosis and describing and demonstrating antifungal efficacy in severe asthma with fungal sensitisation (SAFS). His current interests are chronic and allergic pulmonary fungal disease, the global burden of fungal infection and azole resistance in Aspergillus. He has published more than 450 papers, books and book chapters, including an undergraduate textbook of Medicine. He is heavily involved in postgraduate teaching, both clinical scientists and physicians. He was instrumental in the establishment of the Mycology Reference Centre in Manchester (2009), which grew out of the Fungal Testing Laboratory he founded in 1991. His work has been cited over 37,500 times (Google scholar H-index 93).
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