When hurricane hits an area with a storm surge and subsequent flooding, residents have to live through flooded basement and mud-filled living space. In addition to this difficulty, people with allergic diseases or asthma often develop cough, chest congestion, sneezing and difficulty in breathing in this environment.
Mold and mildew grow quickly on anything wet. Cleaning up the debris during the aftermath of hurricane also exposes the residents to airborne fungi and their spores, because they come from moldy building materials, decaying waste material and other fungus contaminated debris.
However, mold is not always the main factor in any respiratory related symptoms. Fungi are a major component of the environment, and fungal spores are almost always present in the atmosphere. In contrast to well-recognized infectious and allergic diseases caused by molds, a large number of people often are misdiagnosed to have mold related illness, manifested as non-specific vague symptoms e.g. fatigue, malaise, body ache etc.
As an example, Stachybotrys atra (chartarum), a type of fungus, attracted public attention because of probable relationship of the fungus to pulmonary hemorrhage in young infants living in moldy environment. The role of the fungus in these cases is seriously questioned since then. But, unsubstantiated fear of any indoor mold spores as pathogenic, still rampant.
For the sake of clarity, please remember the following top ten tips when dealing with mold during the post-hurricane period:
- Individuals, who are sensitive to molds, should minimize exposure by wearing masks (N-95 NIOSH-approved disposable respirator), gloves and eye protection.
- If one develops severe allergic or skin symptoms, or severe flu-like symptoms, she should seek medical attention immediately.
- If you are in doubt, throw away any article that is visibly contaminated with molds.
- Avoid outdoor mold hot spots, which include moist, shady places like compost piles, rotting logs, and piles of fallen leaves.
- When working outdoor, wear a mask so that you do not inhale spores of fungi.
- Good ventilation is the key to reduce moldy growth.
- Use a dehumidifier or air-conditioner to maintain humidity at an optimum level in between 30-50%.
- People who are susceptible to mold-related allergy should avoid entering barns, mowing grass and raking leaves because of high concentration of mold spores are usually found there.
- Certain foods and beverages, such as aged cheese, canned tomatoes, and beer, may produce symptoms in some mold-sensitive patients.
- Neither everyone nor every type of molds causes disease, unless exposed to a heavy concentration of spore over a short period of time. Usually, susceptible individual with previous history allergy or asthma are more likely to develop nasal or respiratory symptoms. If you are one of them, avoid high concentration of molds and fungi.