Dec 02 2010

Health

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Visualize the house you spent your childhood growing up in; now imagine it being thrashed by waves of water forcing you and your family to evacuate from your home. This is what happened to many families and their houses as a result of Hurricane Katrina. Many of the houses that were not destroyed by the hurricane were left with severe water damage. Houses were filled with large amounts of water, exceeding the height of the average person. Having such high levels of water made water damage inevitable.  A dangerous result of water damage is mold. Houses that contain mold are hazardous to the health of the families that live in them.

What is Mold? and Different Types

Mold, scientifically referred to as Filamentous micofungi is a form of fungi that can threaten an individual’s health. Fungi are categorized as eukaryotic organisms that have the ability to utilize enzymes to break down various types of materials such as keratin and cellulose. Although there are thousands of types of mold, some that can be identified as allergens include Aspergillus, Cladosporium, Curvularisa, and Penicillin(Bloom,2009). The types of mold that’s  presence  can determine whether a house has been exposed to water damage for a long time are Chaetomium and Stachybotrys.( Barbeau,2010) Following Hurricane Katrina, the presence of mold became very apparent due to the drenched walls being an ideal environment for mold to reproduce and spread throughout the house.  One type of mold is the black mold Stachybotrys chartarum. This form of mold is highly present in water-damaged buildings. They feed off of the cellulose based materials that many building are constructed from. Another type of mold is known as Chaetomium, this mold is a dark-walled mold that is found in the air and soil, as well as plant debris. Both Stacybotrys and Chaetomium have adverse health effects on humans and the environment and were found in water damaged houses in New Orleans.

Contact with Mold

Humans can come in contact with mold in various ways. One place that mold is found is in dust. In a recent study, several dust samples were taken from a variety of water damaged houses in New Orleans, Stacybotrys Chartarum was found in all samples while Chaetomium was found in only half of the samples(Solomon,2006)  . This shows how easy it is for an indivual to inhale a dangerous form of mold from being in a house. Another place where mold can be found is the walls of a water damaged house. The moisture and heat allow the spores of the mold to reproduce. Indoor mold is the most popular type of mold in that it can easily be seen on the walls on the infected houses. The spores from the mold get into the air and consequently humans inhale it, exposing themselves to the fungus. Excessive exposure to any form of mold can result in illness or health problems.

Illnesses from Mold

Extended and frequent exposure of mold can cause a person to obtain respiratory problems. Mold can be categorized into two illness categories: infectious illnesses and noninfectious illness. Infectious illnesses are associated with fungal infections and can result in things such as respiratory tract infection. The fungus that causes this infection usually only affects individuals with weak immune symptoms. Asperilisus spp. was found to be one of the fungus types that can cause infectious illnesses such as pulmonary asperigillosis and aspergillomas(Barbeau,2010). Noninfectious illnesses result from the immune and non immune body response to the exposure of mold. This type of illness is usually an allergic reaction to the mold and not a set disease. It was found that 6-10% of the general population has allergic reactions to mold(Bloom,2009). Many of the allergic reactions pertain to nose, ears and throat. A highly common noninfectious illness is irritation. The mold spores cause coughing and wheezing along with other influenza type symptoms. One allergic reaction that is present in many individuals is asthma. Asthma has a greater affect on younger children than it does on adults. It is possible for children that previously did not have asthma to obtain it from exposure to mold whereas no studies show adults to attain asthma if it was not already present(Associated press, 2005). This shows the increased danger mold has on the younger population.

Presence of Mold Today

Although Hurricane Katrina took place in 2005, some houses may still suffer from the mold damage. A study conducted in Colorado a year after Hurricane Katrina showed that houses that had all water damaged carpets and walls replaced still had a presence of mold(Bloom,2009). With this knowledge the intensity of mold is seen. Even after mold infected objects were removed, the spores were able to reproduce and still have a presence in the house. This may lead to extended symptoms for the families that live in these infected houses. Additionally this can lead to long-term health issues. If after a year mold was still present, it could possibly mean that present day New Orleans can house such dangerous types of fungus. It is necessary for individuals living in an affected house in New Orleans to take the proper steps in making sure their house is completely clear of mold that can have adverse health effects.

In the end mold is a serious issue that can harm humans if not treated correctly. Problems can range from coughing to diseases that were not present before. Hurricane Katrina was a disastrous event that still has an effect on New Orleans today, one of those being the mold growth in water damaged houses. It is imperative that these houses be treated and for individuals that work on or live in these houses to protect themselves from exposure whether it is from dust or spores. A majority of the health problems associated with mold exposure can be limited in an individual is educated about mold and how it functions to cause such problems. Overall mold exposure does not have to be detrimental if handled responsibly.

Sources

Associated Press. 2005 September 25. Post-Katrina mold threatens health. Foxnews.  [Internet] [cited 2010             November 3]. Available from http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,170602,00.html

Barbeau D, et. al. 2010. Mold exposure and health effects following hurricanes Katrina and Rita.  The Annual Review of Public Health. 31:165-78.

Bloom, E, et. al. 2009. Molds and mycotoxins in dust from water-damaged homes in New Orleans after hurricane Katrina. Indoor Air. (19). 153-58.

J.R. 2006. Moldy whiff kills brain cells. Science News.(169)12: 190.

Solomon GM, et. al. 2006. Airborne mold and Endotoxin concentrations in New Orleans, Louisiana, after flooding, October through November 2005. Environmental Health Perspectives. 114(9):1381-86.

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