Researchers at The University of Manchester funded by the FungalResearch Trust have discovered millions of fungal spores right underour noses -- in our pillows.
Aspergillus fumigatus, the species most commonly found in thepillows, is most likely to cause disease; and the resulting conditionAspergillosis has become the leading infectious cause of death inleukaemia and bone marrow transplant patients. Fungi also exacerbateasthma in adults.
The researchers dissected both feather and synthetic samplesand identified several thousand spores of fungus per gram of usedpillow - more than a million spores per pillow.
Fungal contamination of bedding was first studied in 1936, butthere have been no reports in the last seventy years. For this newstudy, which was published online today in the scientific journalAllergy, the team studied samples from ten pillows with between 1.5 and20 years of regular use.
Each pillow was found to contain a substantial fungal load,with four to 16 different species being identified per sample and evenhigher numbers found in synthetic pillows. The microscopic fungusAspergillus fumigatus was particularly evident in synthetic pillows,and fungi as diverse as bread and vine moulds and those usually foundon damp walls and in showers were also found.
Professor Ashley Woodcock who led the research said: "We knowthat pillows are inhabited by the house dust mite which eats fungi, andone theory is that the fungi are in turn using the house dust mites'faeces as a major source of nitrogen and nutrition (along with humanskin scales). There could therefore be a 'miniature ecosystem' at workinside our pillows."
Aspergillus is a very common fungus, carried in the air as wellas being found in cellars, household plant pots, compost, computers andground pepper and spices. Invasive Aspergillosis occurs mainly in thelungs and sinuses, although it can spread to other organs such as thebrain, and is becoming increasingly common across other patient groups.It is very difficult to treat, and as many as 1 in 25 patients who diein modern European teaching hospitals have the disease.
Immuno-compromised patients such as transplantation, AIDS andsteroid treatment patients are also frequently affected withlife-threatening Aspergillus pneumonia and sinusitis. Fortunately,hospital pillows have plastic covers and so are unlikely to causeproblems, but patients being discharged home - where pillows may be oldand fungus-infected - could be at risk of infection.
Aspergillus can also worsen asthma, particularly in adults whohave had asthma for many years, and cause allergic sinusitis inpatients with allergic tendencies. Constant exposure to fungus in bedcould be problematic. It can also get into the lung cavities created bytuberculosis which affects a third of the world's population, causinggeneral ill-health and bleeding in the lung, as well as causing a rangeof plant and animal diseases.
Dr Geoffrey Scott, Chairman of the Fungal Research Trust whichfunded the study, said: "These new findings are potentially of majorsignificance to people with allergic diseases of the lungs and damagedimmune systems - especially those being sent home from hospital."
Professor Ashley Woodcock added: "Since patients spend a thirdof their life sleeping and breathing close to a potentially large andvaried source of fungi, these findings certainly have importantimplications for patients with respiratory disease - especially asthmaand sinusitis."
The Fungal Research Trust (www.fungalresearchtrust.org)is a registered charity which funds research into and education aboutfungal infection. It was set up in 1991 and since then has distributedin excess of£1 .6m in research grants resulting in more than 80research publications in clinical and scientific aspects of fungalinfection. It also supports the Aspergillus Website which achievesaround 160,000 page requests a month. As well as being a key resourcefor clinicians, the website also devotes a section to patients andrelatives to help them understand more about the disease. It can befound at www.aspergillus.man.ac.uk.
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