Following Disasters, Untreated Mold Sends Many to Hospitals

Following Disasters, Untreated Mold Sends Many to Hospitals
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Key Takeaways

  • Climate change-driven weather events are increasing the risk to people’s health from mold, a new study warns

  • Hospitals experience a doubled increase in diagnoses related to mold following a hurricane or flood

  • People with asthma were twice as likely to die if there was heavy mold in their homes

MONDAY, Nov. 13, 2023 (HealthDay News) -- Climate change-driven hurricanes, floods and superstorms are threatening to create a surge in mold growth in people’s homes, sickening residents and robbing them of breath.

Local hospitals witness a nearly twofold increase in diagnoses related to mold exposure following a storm-related natural disaster, according to a study being presented Thursday at the annual meeting of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology in Anaheim, Calif.

“Allergists routinely discuss avoidance of mold with their patients who test positive for mold allergy,” lead researcher Dr. Amber Hardeman, a chief pediatrics resident at Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans.

“We conducted a review of recent articles on flooding and mold exposure after natural disasters to assess the strength of evidence supporting common recommendations for mold remediation provided by physicians,” Hardeman added in a meeting news release.

People with respiratory conditions like asthma, weakened immune systems and allergies are most at risk, the researchers found.

For example, people with asthma were twice as likely to die if mold counts exceeded 1,000 spores per cubic meter in their home, results show. A mold count above 500 is considered high.

The researchers said they’re also concerned about the potential impact of agents like bleach that are used to clean up mold infestations, since harsh cleansers can be more harmful than the mold itself.

“Allergists and other physicians should focus on recommending effective home drying methods and discouraging detrimental or expensive practices for patients exposed to mold,” the researchers concluded.

In a second study to be presented at the same meeting, researchers found that improving indoor air quality can have a significant impact on people’s health -- particularly if they have asthma or allergies.

“This study provides an update on state-of-the-art air-cleaning technology, to equip doctors to advise their patients,” said lead author Gráinne Cunniffe, scientific lead of Allergy Standards Limited in Dublin, Ireland.

“HEPA filters remain most effective in removing airborne particles, including allergens and fine particulate matter,” Cunniffe said. “Additionally, activated carbon filters were found to be highly effective in removing volatile organic compounds and odors. UV-based technology can be effective when used in filtered HVAC systems.”

However, researchers cautioned against using air cleaners and ionizers that are ozone-producing, as some of these technologies have been shown to release harmful ozone gas.

 The researchers recommend that when patients are selecting an air cleaner that they consider factors such as room size, cost, maintenance requirements, independent testing and third-party certification, and noise levels.

Findings presented at scientific meetings are considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

More information

The University of Connecticut has instructions for building your own inexpensive air purifier.

SOURCE: American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, news release, Nov. 9, 2023

What This Means For You

People who have experienced flooding should take immediate steps to dry out their homes and kill any mold that is growing.

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