Certain molds generate mycotoxins that are poisons of a varying degree of harm to a person. Black mold is a fungus that thrives in damp environments and produces trichothecene mycotoxin. Trichothecenes are known to inhibit protein synthesis and can act on the surface of skin causing a rash, or induce nausea if ingested. The occurrence of black mold in a residential question, as a result of high humidity or flooding, raises the question ‘is black mold deadly‘ for human beings and, if so, what degree of contact will cause death.
The Illinois Department of Public Health states that the lethal effects of trichothecene mycotoxin are determined by to what degree a person is exposed to the toxin, the duration of exposure and the means of exposure. Death is most likely to occur from a highly concentrated solution or if the toxin comes in large quantities of gas; both instances usually happen only in time of war or a terrorist attack. In other words, black mold isn’t anthrax.
This doesn’t mean that exposure to black mold is without risk. Indeed, stachybotrys chartarum is a bone fide health hazard, and black mold spores can become airborne and inhaled. The Center for Disease Control notes that people with allergies, immune suppression (AIDS or those undergoing chemotherapy), and lung conditions such as asthma are at risk from exposure to fungus such as black mold. Black mold symptoms that occur as a result of exposure, include sinus headaches, shortness of breath, skin rash, and flu like symptoms among other signs.
High levels of exposure for prolonged periods are the most dangerous. The trichothecene mycotoxin produced by black mold is neurotoxic, i.e. it can kill neurons in the brain and impair a person’s mental processes. Disorientation and a diminished ability to concentrate are evidence that black mold exposure is causing neurological damage. The mycotoxin can make its way into the blood stream and lead to internal bleeding, irregular heartbeat or heart inflammation. Because black mold also generates immunosuppressive chemicals, exposure heightens the risk of other forms of infection. It because of such black mold health risks that families are routinely evacuated from the premises in the event of extreme black mold infestation. It is also the reason why professional mold removers will use protective clothing when working in a home that is infested with black mold.
The adverse impact of black mold varies from person to person. Children, the elderly, and those with weakened immune systems are the ones most in danger. While more research is needed, there is some suspicion in the medical community that stachybotrys chartarum can cause cancer. A positive note is that once the black mold is removed symptoms gradually go away, since the source of the problem has been eradicated. However, it is true that some health problems caused by black mold exposure will not entirely be eliminated and the individual will be more sensitive to future infection. As mentioned earlier, stachybotrys chartarum isn’t anthrax but it still causes illness and is definitely dangerous for small children and older people. The potential consequences are reason enough to monitor basements and bathrooms for the any signs of black mold, and to get immediate help once it has been established that black mold has become present in the home.