As the coroner releases a damning “Prevention of Future Deaths” report on toddler Awaab Ishak, a leading health testing expert warns that there could be more fatalities this winter, as Brits save on heating bills. Potentially lethal moulds can spread quickly in cold, damp houses. London Medical Laboratory’s Dr Quinton Fivelman is calling for increased awareness and more widespread testing for mould allergies.
The tragic death of two-year-old Awaab Ishak, caused by prolonged exposure to mould in his family’s flat, is unlikely to be an isolated event, warns a leading health testing expert. As many more Brits turn off their heating in the face of rocketing household energy bills, potentially lethal moulds are likely to spread in many homes across the UK.
The leading testing expert, Dr Quinton Fivelman PhD, chief scientific officer at London Medical Laboratory, said: “As a result of Awaab’s case, the Coroner has issued a ‘Prevention of Future Deaths’ report to the Government, highlighting the concerns raised.”
The report states that “the impact on health from damp and mould is a widespread national issue.
Potentially toxic moulds spread in cold, damp conditions. With a reported one in eight households (12%) planning to get through winter without any heating at all, we are looking at considerably more families being exposed to mould spores than ever before.
Already, 1 in 5 UK homes is affected by condensation dampness. This encourages the most common moulds, Penicillium and Cladosporium, to spread. These are found, respectively, in 95.7% and 88.7% of all UK homes tested for mould. Cladosporium can provoke severe, and even fatal, asthma attacks, and long-term exposure exacerbates the risk
Other commonly found moulds include Stachybotrys (commonly known as “Black mould”). “Black mould” has been named in many newspaper reports about Awaab’s case, though no specific mould type is mentioned in the Coroner’s report. Stachybotrys sometimes produces toxic chemicals in its airborne spores and fungus fragments. Even though it is often called ‘black mould’ it may, in fact, also be green. In the US, it has also been associated with a potentially lethal condition called acute idiopathic pulmonary haemorrhage in infants, but no firm link has been established.
We do know for certain, however, that the very young, and people with asthma, allergies and other breathing conditions are more sensitive to mould. Those with a compromised immune system, lung disease and a specific mould allergy are particularly at risk. In fact, it has been found that 93% of chronic sinus infections can be attributed to mould and fungi.
Exposure to so-called black mould is known to cause:
- Dry skin that may look scaly
- Itchy eyes, nose and throat
- Stuffy or runny nose
- Trouble breathing
- Watery eyes
Some researchers claim that mould also causes:
These claims have yet to be medically proven, however.
Clearly, while it is infants and the elderly who are most vulnerable to severe complications from contact with fungi, people who are allergic to specific moulds are also at risk. Many of us have never been tested for mould allergies. With more of us deciding to turn our heating down or off this winter, this could increase the incidence of mould-related health problems and allergic reactions.
One of the reasons why household moulds are a particular problem in the UK is because our winters are damp. Condensation, which is the main cause of dampness, occurs when moisture-laden air meets a cold surface such as a window or a wall. Simple, day-to-day activities such as bathing, cooking and even breathing all add to this build-up of moisture.
If heating is not turned on regularly, or there is no sufficient ventilation in place, then moisture starts to build up on cold surfaces and black mould spots will appear. During the summer months, improving ventilation is easy – you just open a window. However, during cold weather leaving windows open is not an option.
Ironically, some of the measures that we take to make our homes more energy-efficient actually reduce natural airflow and ventilation. This includes the use of double glazing, draught excluders and insulation in walls and lofts. Stopping the warm, damp air from leaving the house means that humidity increases to higher levels and worsens condensation.
For anyone concerned they may be suffering from an allergic reaction to mould, we recommend a simple and quick blood test, that can be done in clinics and pharmacies nationwide, or even in people’s own homes.
For example, London Medical Laboratory’s own Allergy Complete finger-prick blood test can identify a wide variety of common mould and related yeast allergies, including Alternaria alternata, Aspergillus fumigatus, Cladosporium herbarum, Malassezia sympodialis and Penicilium chrysogenum.
The Allergy Complete blood test is highly accurate, quick and simple to carry out, either at home through the post, or at one of the many drop-in clinics that offer this test across London and nationwide in over 85 selected pharmacies and health stores.
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