Warning to gardeners as common mould ‘triggers dangerous lung condition’

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BRITS who enjoy gardening have been warned to look out for symptoms of a dangerous lung condition.

Aspergillosis is rare in healthy people and is caused by inhaling tiny bits of mould.

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People who inhale aspergillosis can suffer with shortness of breath and a coughCredit: Getty – Contributor

Experts have now warned that the drug-resistant fungi is spreading from the environment and infecting susceptible people’s lungs.

The mould is found in lots of places including soil, compost and rotting leaves.

It’s also found in plants and trees which is why gardeners are susceptible to the illness.

Mould particles can however, also be found in dust, damp buildings and in air conditioning.

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You’re more likely to get aspergillosis if you already have a lung condition, if you have a weakened immune system or if you’ve had tuberculosis in the past.

If you’ve ever been placed on a ventilator due to severe flu or Covid-19 then you’re also more at risk.

Samples from across England were tracked and researchers at Imperial College London found six people were infected with a strain resistant to medication.

Aspergillosis affects 10-20 million people worldwide and is usually treated with anti-fungal drugs.

Researchers looked at 218 samples of the mould between 2005 and 2017.

Writing in Nature Microbiology, they said seven out of 10 samples were from infected people.

They looked at samples from patients and from soil,  compost, plant bulbs, the air and other sources.

Similarities in the genetics of the cases confirmed that the fungus had spread from the environment to the patients.

Senior author, Professor Matthew Fisher, from Imperial’s School of Public Health, said: “Understanding the environmental hotspots and genetic basis of evolving fungal drug resistance needs urgent attention, because resistance is compromising our ability to prevent and treat this disease.”

The symptom of aspergillosis you need to know

Symptoms of aspergillosis include

  • shortness of breath
  • a cough
  • coughing up blood or lumps of mucus
  • wheezing
  • high temperature
  • weight loss

The NHS says that if you already suffer with a lung condition like asthma then you’re symptoms might get worse.

You should see your GP if you have had a cough for more than three weeks or you have a lung condition that’s getting worse or harder to control.

If you have any of the symptoms above and have a weakened immune system then you should also see a GP.

Source NHS

The team also found 50 new genes of the illness that could also be drug resistant.

The lead author of the paper said because of this, the illness could become harder to treat.

Dr Johanna Rhodes said: “We’ve not been sure how patients are acquiring these infections – whether they develop in the lungs during treatment for the infection, or whether the mould spores that infect them are drug-resistant in the first place.

“Our study finds that both routes of infection are possible and confirms concerns that pre-resistant mould spores in the environment are able to enter and infect people’s lungs causing harder-to-treat disease.”

She added that while the study highlights how the mould is being passed from the environment to people – there needs to be a clearer understanding of how it is becoming resistant to drugs.

Prof Neil Gow, Professor of Microbiology at the University of Exeter, said the findings show the dangers of using certain antifungals to protect crops.

He added: “We all inhale Aspergillus spores every day of our lives.  Mostly these are quickly killed by patrolling immune cells in our lungs, but sometimes a vulnerable patient with weak immunity needs an azole drug to kill off the Aspergillus. 

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“The worry is that the spores that are inhaled by a vulnerable patient are already azole resistant because they came from a fungus that had been sprayed with a similar azole by a farmer.

“It is now clear that that there is a risk to patient care.  This precipitates discussions about how we best manage our resources to control fungal infections in both crops and people.”

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