Mold is a common issue that can arise after floods or water damage, and while it may seem harmless to most people, it can pose serious risks for immunocompromised individuals. Invasive mold infections are rare but can be life-threatening for those with weakened immune systems. It’s crucial for medical professionals to be aware of these risks and to consider mold exposure when treating patients who fall ill after coming into contact with mold.
Understanding Invasive Mold Infections
Immunocompromised people can develop invasive mold infections days or weeks after exposure to certain fungi found in the environment. Indoor mold, which can grow as a result of water damage, can exacerbate this risk. The most common type of mold responsible for these infections is Aspergillus, although other molds like mucormycetes can also cause problems. These infections are notoriously hard to diagnose, making them especially dangerous.
Who is at Risk?
Individuals who are most susceptible to invasive mold infections include those who:
- Have received a transplant, particularly hematopoietic stem cell transplants
- Are diagnosed with cancer, especially blood cancers such as leukemia and lymphoma
- Are undergoing chemotherapy or other cancer treatments
- Take medications that weaken the immune system, like corticosteroids and biologics
Identifying Signs and Symptoms
The symptoms of invasive mold infections can vary depending on the patient, the mold type, and the affected body part. However, some common signs and symptoms include:
- Night sweats
- Weight loss
- Shortness of breath
- Sinus issues
- Dark scabs, blisters, or ulcers on the skin
If a patient has any of these symptoms and is at risk for mold infection, medical professionals should consider testing for mold exposure.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Diagnosing an invasive mold infection can be challenging and typically requires multiple diagnostic tests. The results of these tests should be interpreted within the context of the individual patient. Some common tests include:
- Culture of specimens from the affected area (e.g., bronchoalveolar lavage for lung infections)
- Biopsy of the suspected body part for fungal culture and histopathology
- Imaging of the affected body part (e.g., chest CT scan for respiratory symptoms)
- Blood tests (such as Aspergillus galactomannan), mainly used for immunocompromised patients
- Prompt treatment is essential to prevent fatalities. This can include antifungal medications and, in some cases, urgent surgery. Consultation with an infectious disease specialist may be helpful for diagnosis and treatment.
Prevention and Patient Resources
After a flood or water damage, it’s important to discuss mold protection with immunocompromised patients. Here are some key points to consider:
- Mold can grow within 24-48 hours of water exposure, even if not visible.
- Immunocompromised individuals should avoid entering moldy buildings or participating in mold cleanup.
- If avoiding mold exposure is impossible, patients should consult with their doctor and consider using an N-95 respirator, although this may not offer full protection.
- Mold in a patient’s home should be cleaned and water problems addressed by someone healthy and able-bodied.
- Healthy individuals involved in mold cleanup should wear full protective gear, including an N95 respirator, gloves, boots, long pants, and long sleeves. However, an N95 respirator alone may not provide complete protection against mold exposure and illness.
Invasive mold infections can be dangerous for immunocompromised individuals. Medical professionals must be aware of these risks and be prepared to test and treat patients accordingly. Preventive measures and patient education are essential to minimize the risk of mold