Could The Coronavirus COVID-19 Epidemic Have A Toxic Mold Connection?

 

The Life Care Center nursing facility in Kirkland, Washington, where six people have died and many others have become ill as a result of coronavirus.

March 6, 2020

By Lisa Petrison, Ph.D.

Reviewed by Mary Ackerley, M.D.; Keith Berndtson, M.D.; Erik Johnson; and David C. Straus, Ph.D.

As the coronavirus COVID-19 begins to cause illness and fatalities in the U.S., a question on my mind is whether those who are currently living in buildings with significant toxic mold problems – or who have chronic illness issues as a result of living in such buildings in the past – may be especially vulnerable to this particular virus.

The fact that so many of the initial deaths from the virus in the U.S. have been associated with one particular building has made me especially suspicious.

In addition, learning that Wuhan, China, has truly out-of-control flooding issues – something that I had not seen reported in mainstream media coverage – has made me more convinced that there indeed may be a connection here.

Of course, these are early days in the expected outbreak and it is hard to make any conclusions about the situation thus far.

I therefore would like to share a few thoughts on the topic, in order to encourage others to consider the question of whether there may be a mold connection here and – if there does seem to be a connection – to join me in asking the relevant authorities to investigate.

 

Daegu, South Korea

Coronavirus Epidemiology

As of March 5, 2020, a total of 205 coronavirus cases had been confirmed in the U.S. (with 46 of these associated with the Diamond Princess cruise ship outbreak). Twelve people have died so far.

Eleven of the deaths and 70 illnesses in total were in Washington State (primarily in the Seattle metropolitan area). Six deaths were linked to the Life Care Center nursing facility in Kirkland, with more than 50 additional residents and staff at the facility displaying symptoms.

A total of 36 confirmed cases were in California, with many of them in the San Jose and Los Angeles areas. One individual living in Placer County (which includes Auburn and Roseville) has died of the disease.

Additional cases have been reported in Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Texas and Wisconsin.

Worldwide, coronavirus cases have been reported from many different countries, with substantial numbers of deaths being reported in China, South Korea, Iran and Italy.

High numbers of confirmed coronavirus cases as well as fatalities have been reported from two Asian cities – Wuhan, China, and Daegu, South Korea.

In terms of risk factors, coronavirus already has been accepted as being much more likely to cause serious illness or death in individuals who are suffering from other serious illnesses:

After taking into account the patients’ ages and smoking status, the researchers found that the 399 patients with at least one additional disease (including cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, hepatitis B, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, chronic kidney diseases, and cancer) had a 79% greater chance of requiring intensive care or a respirator or both, or of dying…The 130 with two or more additional diseases had 2.5 times the risk of any of those outcomes.

Breaking down the Covid-19 risk with the most common co-morbidities, the scientists found that cancer raises the risk 3.5-fold, COPD 2.6-fold, and diabetes and hypertension by about 60%. 

Co-morbidities also raise the risk of dying from Covid-19. China CDC’s analysis of 44,672 patients found that the fatality rate in patients who reported no other health conditions was 0.9%. It was 10.5% for those with cardiovascular disease, 7.3% for those with diabetes, 6.3% for people with chronic respiratory diseases such as COPD, 6.0% for people with hypertension, and 5.6% for those with cancer.

 

The fact that coronavirus tends to be much less problematic in young people than in older ones also suggests that underlying susceptibility to the disease is a critical component:

The vast majority of cases in China — 87% — were in people ages 30 to 79… That probably reflects something about biology more than lifestyle, such as being in frequent contact with other people. Teens and people in their 20s also encounter many others, at school and work and on public transit, yet they don’t seem to be contracting the disease at significant rates: Only 8.1% of cases were 20-somethings, 1.2% were teens, and 0.9% were 9 or younger. 

The death toll skews old even more strongly. Overall, China CDC found, 2.3% of confirmed cases died. But the fatality rate was 14.8% in people 80 or older, likely reflecting the presence of other diseases, a weaker immune system, or simply worse overall health. By contrast, the fatality rate was 1.3% in 50-somethings, 0.4% in 40-somethings, and 0.2% in people 10 to 39.

 

Another interesting finding from China is that coronavirus has tended to be concentrated in families rather than spread more evenly throughout the general population.

World Health Organization (WHO) assistant director general Bruce Aylward led the agency’s mission to China and stated the following:

You look at the big, long lists of all the cases and identify those where you have clusterings in space and time and try to investigate what kind of clustering happened: Was it in a hospital, an old-age home, theaters, restaurants? We found it was predominantly in families. It’s not a big surprise; China had shut down a lot of the other ways people could gather. And family clusters are the closest, longest exposures [to the virus], and getting the virus is a function of whether someone’s got it, how long they’re exposed, and how much virus they are shedding.

More of a surprise, and this is something we still don’t understand, is how little virus there was in the much broader community. Everywhere we went, we tried to find and understand how many tests had been done, how many people were tested, and who were they.

In Guangdong province, for example, there were 320,000 tests done in people coming to fever clinics, outpatient clinics. And at the peak of the outbreak, 0.47 percent of those tests were positive. People keep saying [the cases are the] tip of the iceberg. But we couldn’t find that. We found there’s a lot of people who are cases, a lot of close contacts — but not a lot of asymptomatic circulation of this virus in the bigger population. And that’s different from flu. In flu, you’ll find this virus right through the child population, right through blood samples of 20 to 40 percent of the population.

 

Wuhan, China

The China Situation

The problem with trying to consider the question of whether living or working in particularly problematic buildings or locations with regard to toxic mold might predispose people to be especially negatively affected by coronavirus is how little information we have at present about the mold situation in the places that have been most affected by the disease so far.

Most of the cases of coronavirus so far have been in China, where 3,000 deaths and 80,000 documented cases of the disease have been reported as of March 5.

The only reports that I have gotten from  experienced mold avoiders who have visited China have been with regard to Beijing and Shanghai, staying either in expensive hotels or in on-campus faculty housing at Beijing University.

These individuals reported that (despite the substantial amounts of air pollution in these cities) they did well in terms of their health on these visits, but that says nothing about what conditions may be like in the rest of the country.

In particular, I have gotten enough negative reports about people who are highly reactive to mold toxins having problems with certain electronics items and clothing items imported from China that I feel confident that some of the factories there do have substantial toxic mold problems.

I also have heard many reports of Zinus mattresses (which are made in China and then crammed inside tight plastic bags before being shipped to the U.S.) having severe toxic mold issues upon delivery, suggesting to me that at least one of the Zinus factories may have a toxic mold problem.

A suspicion of many experienced mold avoiders is that the combination of toxic chemicals (such as may be used in computer manufacturing) and mold growth can result in particularly problematic toxins that are much more likely to cause health harm than either the chemicals or the mold on its own.

In looking at the Wikipedia article on Wuhan (which has been the epicenter of the coronavirus epidemic in China), one thing that seemed relevant to me is this comment in the introduction:  “Historically, Wuhan has suffered risks of flooding, prompting the government to alleviate the situation by introducing ecologically friendly absorption mechanisms.”

Wuhan is located in a low-lying area that always was prone to flooding – with recent urbanization exacerbating the problem by removing almost all of the natural lakes.

After flooding disasters in Wuhan in 2016, the government has been trying to remedy the problem by building “sponge sites” – garden areas that include permeable pavements, rain gardens, grass swales, artificial ponds and wetlands that will mop up some of the excess water when floods occur.

Addendum 3/8/2020: A hotel being used as a makeshift hospital in Wuhan collapsed on March 7, trapping 70 people who were under observation with regard to possibly having coronavirus infections and killing at least 10. The building was said to have been under renovation, with a “deformed pillar” implicated as a possible cause of the collapse. Whether the building may have had water damage is unknown.

In addition, Wuhan is recognized as a major manufacturing city, with computers made there apparently being a very important part of the Chinese economy.

A new article out of Japan starts out by stating, “Chip and display makers in virus-hit Wuhan are being given special permission to continue operating and even skirt quarantine guidelines in order to avoid major production disruptions, the Nikkei Asian Review has learned, as the government continues to push its national tech ambitions despite the epidemic.”

The mention of computer chips makes me especially nervous because of my suspicions that solvent chemicals that were used to “wash” computer chips and that then ended up in the sewers were a primary cause of the ME/CFS epidemic (and maybe also the AIDS epidemic) that occurred in the Silicon Valley area in the 1980’s and 1990’s.

(The ME/CFS and AIDS epidemics are discussed in more detail in subsequent sections of this article.)

Computer chips are now manufactured in other countries such as China, with solvent chemicals still used to wash the chips.

Considering the Chinese government’s poor reputation with regard to controlling environmental toxicity issues, I do not have any particularly great hope that the solvent chemicals are being disposed of any more properly in China now than they were in the U.S. in the 1980’s.

Wuhan also has a reputation as being one the most generally polluted cities in China, with the Chinese government reported as having vigorously squashed citizen protests related to a polluting factory there in 2014.

(NASA images show that pollution in the Wuhan area has gone down dramatically since the start of the epidemic, by the way.)

All this being said, I personally would be extremely reluctant to visit Wuhan even if there were not a known coronavirus outbreak there.

It sounds to me like there likely would be a great deal of mold growth as a result of flooding; a lot of cheap Westernized housing with innovations like drywall since this is a “modern” city; a great deal of various nasty chemicals potentiating the mold in some of the factories there; solvent chemicals that have made their way into the sewers, resulting in the especially problematic toxic substance that Erik Johnson and I wrote about in more detail in a previous article; and a lot of general air pollution that I would prefer to avoid.

I’d be very interested in hearing some reports from people with mold illness, ME/CFS or similar diseases who have been to Wuhan, in terms of how they felt while there.

The fact that – according to the WHO research – the virus seems to be concentrated within families in China rather than being substantially present within the general population seems to provide some additional evidence to support the possibility that a mold connection may be playing a role in this disease.

As the WHO director states, with most contagious illness such as the flu, it is usual to see clusters in families but also a spread of the pathogen through the general population.

A situation where the virus is present almost solely within certain family units and is hardly present at all in the general population suggests something odd with regard to transmission.

The idea that infection with the virus could be much more likely to occur within the context of living in a particularly bad building – and with family members living together in such buildings all being much more susceptible to getting infected than the general population – seems to have the potential of explaining that otherwise perplexing finding.

 

A flooded South Korean basement apartment from the movie “Parasite.”

South Korea, Italy & Iran

South Korea has reported more than 5,000 coronavirus cases and 35 associated deaths.

The first thing that came to my mind when learning that South Korea was a hot spot for the disease was the South Korean movie “Parasite,” which recently won the Oscar for Best Picture and which features a poor family living in a basement apartment that periodically fills up with several feet of water (with large amounts of mold growth presumably resulting).

According to The New York Times, basement apartments  that regularly experience flooding are quite common in the larger cities in South Korea.

Just for that reason alone, I would not rule out the idea that the infirm people who have been felled by coronavirus in South Korea might originally have been made sick by toxic mold issues.

Another thing that I know about South Korea is that it is a major source of computer chips, with a Bloomberg Businessweek article from a couple of years ago sharing a South Korean scientist’s concerns that the chemicals used in the production process were not being disposed of properly and were causing negative health effects.

About 90% of coronavirus cases in Korea thus far have been in a city called Daegu, which is described by Wikipedia as having a “humid subtropical climate” (warmer and damper than most of South Korea).

Another Wikipedia article states that one child died and another disappeared when the main river in Daegu overflowed in 2014.

Wikipedia also reports that Daegu is a town with an established history with regard to manufacturing electronics and other items.

One worker at a nearby Samsung computer chip factory has been announced in the media as having been diagnosed with coronavirus.

So all in all, this city sounds quite similar to Wuhan, in terms of the potential for mold growth as well as the connection to computer manufacturing in general and computer chip manufacturing in particular.

In Italy, about 3,000 cases of coronavirus and 107 associated deaths have been reported so far.

News reports suggest that the majority of coronavirus cases in Italy have been mild and scattered around the country, with serious illnesses and deaths confined mostly to older people living in hospitals or nursing homes.

I’ve visited Italy and gotten numerous reports about it from other people pursuing mold avoidance.

I had a very bad experience with the outdoor air in Rome and have heard similar reports from quite a few other people who have visited there.

Venice (which experiences regular flooding) also is reported to be problematic for individuals who are hyperreactive to toxic mold, and I would be cautious with regard to other large cities such as Milan as well.

Still, my feeling is that a lot of Italy is pretty good in terms of both outdoor mold and building mold issues, and that on average buildings there are likely better than U.S. buildings.

I’ve not had any experience with Italian hospitals or nursing homes, though, and so it is possible that some of them have substantial toxic mold problems.

It also could be that older people who were previously exposed to substantial amounts of toxic mold are more likely to have gotten sick enough to need to be living in such facilities than are older people who have not experienced substantial toxic mold exposures.

Unfortunately I know little about Iran that is relevant to this topic, and that country apparently is being especially secretive with regard to sharing information about the coronavirus epidemic there.

I do find it interesting that a 2006 article by two Iranian researchers speculated on whether there might be a connection between moldy buildings and what was then called “chronic fatigue syndrome,” however.

This makes me think that both ME/CFS and moldy buildings must be relatively common in Iran, and that the overlap between the two must be fairly obvious, for these researchers to have thought that the connection merited investigation.

 

Flooding in Venice in November 2019.

Addendum 3/23/20: I recently learned that parts of northern Italy experienced severe flash flooding in Summer and Fall 2019. Venice experienced its worst flooding in more than 50 years, and many other areas were hard-hit as well.

 

Flooding in the Golestan province of Iran in March 2019.

Addendum 3/23/20:  It recently was brought to my attention that parts of Iran experienced severe flash flooding episodes in 2019. As occurred in Wuhan, China, the floods were largely caused by the removal of natural rivers from the area without putting in place alternative means of proper drainage.

 

Kirkland, Washington

Coronavirus in the U.S.

Thus far, all but one of the fatalities and a high percentage of the confirmed U.S. cases have been concentrated in the Seattle area, including the city of Kirkland.

Individuals pursuing the approach to healing described in the book A Beginner’s Guide to Mold Avoidance (where reactions and intuition are used to identify places or objects to be scrupulously avoided) have long pointed to the Seattle area as one of the most problematic locations in the U.S.

For instance, in a recent poll in the Mold Avoiders Facebook group asking participants to name the location where they had been the most sick, Seattle came up as #4 on the list (behind Houston; Portland, Oregon; and Baltimore).

In two other Mold Avoiders Facebook group polls asking about particularly bad locations, Seattle came up as #2 in the 2016 poll and in the Top 20 in a 2018 poll.

The Paradigm Change Locations Ratings Project also suggests that the Seattle area is quite problematic, with most towns in the area (including Kirkland) rated on average as poor or awful by mold avoiders.

When I brought up the coronavirus epidemic in the Mold Avoiders Facebook group, quite a few members stated that they had spent time in Kirkland and several said that they were familiar with the Life Care Center facility there (though none reported actually having gone inside the building).

The general impression that I got from their comments was that a very high percentage of the buildings in Kirkland are moldy and that the Life Care building seemed to have been built several decades ago and then more recently received superficial renovations.

A real estate website states that the facility was built in 1971 (nearly 50 years ago).

In looking at photographs and a video of the nursing home, Mold Avoiders group members pointed out a number of maintenance issues that made them suspect that mold might be an issue in the building.

In addition, the fact that seven patients have now died and many others have been made sick by Aspergillus infections acquired at Seattle Children’s Hospital does not inspire a great deal of confidence that health care facilities in the area should be assumed to be safe with regard to toxic mold issues.

Whether the Life Care Center nursing home is just an ordinarily problematic building or extraordinarily bad building is hard to know without further information, such as either an ERMI test or a visit by an unmasked mold reactor, however.

 

Life Care Center of Kirkland. (Photo Credit: AP)

Addendum 3/23/20:  An AP photo of the Life Care Center of Kirkland nursing home shows that the flat roof appears to be extremely dilapidated and in poor repair, with very warped edges. Especially in the very wet climate of the Seattle area, it is hard to imagine how a building with a roof like that could not have mold issues.

 

Also in Kirkland, two dozen firefighters who visited the Life Care Center and now are showing respiratory symptoms are being quarantined until it can be determined whether they are suffering from coronavirus.

This was interesting to me because I have frequently come across news stories about fire departments that have had such bad mold problems that they have needed to be permanently shut down.

For instance, Seattle Fire Station 31 was permanently closed just a few months ago due to a mold issue that firefighters claimed was causing serious illness.

Why fire departments might be inclined to have particularly bad mold problems, if that indeed is the case, I’m not sure. Maybe it is related to water from the fire hoses, or to some kind of chemical that is used as a fire retardant, or to firefighters bringing back toxic chemicals on their clothing after fighting fires.

In any case, I was not able to find any online evidence that the Kirkland fire department has had any mold problems, but it would be interesting to look into the question more carefully in order to determine whether an issue exists.

Although Seattle does not have as much manufacturing or obvious air pollution as Wuhan and Daegu reportedly do, it does have some marked similarities to those other cities:  it tends to be rainy and damp; it is build directly adjacent to large natural bodies of water; and it has a strong historical connection to the computer industry.

The San Jose area (where a small coronavirus cluster has been identified) is similar as well, in terms of having a history of computer chip manufacturing as well as a damp climate.

I therefore am wondering if it is possible to predict where future clusters are most likely to pop up in the U.S., based on these various factors – damp/wet climate; frequent flooding; reputation as having many particularly problematic buildings; known solvent spills or computer chip manufacturing history; and general reputation among skilled mold avoiders as being a particularly difficult location.

My top suspect here would be the Houston area, which is still reeling from the aftereffects of Hurricane Harvey two years ago and which many Mold Avoiders members recently stated had been particularly problematic for them.

Other locations that I suspect could end up presenting with cluster outbreaks include Washington, D.C.; Portland and Eugene, Oregon; Baltimore; Atlanta; Orlando; Ann Arbor; Dallas; and other parts of the San Francisco Bay area.

Other locations mentioned in the recent “Most Severe Location” poll in the Mold Avoiders group seem like they might be in the running to become illness hot spots as well.

 

Addendum 3/8/2020: Another illness hot spot gaining a great deal of attention in the early days of the epidemic has been the orthodox synagogue Young Israel of New Rochelle, located near New York City. I have yet to get any reports with regard to whether this building might have a toxic mold issue.

 

The Cook County Jail

Addendum 3/27/20: A total of 38 inmates and nine employees at the Cook County Jail tested positive for COVID-19, with an additional 123 individuals who had experienced flu-like symptoms awaiting test results. Cook County has settled lawsuits mentioning mold and other problems with conditions in the jail many times in the past, and Internet comments mention mold issues there. A friend who works as a defense attorney in the Chicago area told me, “It’s very moldy. It’s a bunch of old, damp, ill-maintained concrete buildings. And it feels bad.”

 

Olivia Peregol and her parents in September 2018.

Toxic Mold & Contagious Infections

Over the past few years, the question of whether exposure to toxic mold in buildings may cause people to be more likely to get very sick or die from contagious respiratory diseases has become a topic of substantial interest among those concerned about mold-related illness issues.

For instance, in late 2018, an outbreak of adenovirus occurred at the University of Maryland at College Park, and one student living in a notoriously moldy dorm – Olivia Paregol – died from the disease.

In a long article about the event published about six months later, the Washington Post commented:

Many parents and students have denounced the administration’s handling of the viral outbreak and the mold infestation, complaining its actions endangered thousands of students, faculty and staff on campus. In the end, more than 40 students were sickened with adenovirus, and 15 of them treated at hospitals, according to the university.

Mold does not cause adenovirus but can set the stage for other health problems. The director of the university health center, in emails to administrators, acknowledged that “mold can cause respiratory irritation that may increase susceptibility of any viral infection.”

 

The family of Olivia Paregol has since filed a notice of claim against the University of Maryland with regard to how it handled both the moldy dorm and the adenovirus outbreak.

Olivia’s father, Ian Paregol, stated, “She had been sick really the entire fall semester with respiratory issues, and those respiratory illnesses, really, was part of why the adenovirus impacted her so adversely.”

Read The Washington Post Article

 

In addition, two of the most popular recent Paradigm Change articles have focused on the connection between toxic mold exposures and respiratory illness.

In the article “A Moldy Home, A Flu-Like Illness and the Deaths of Brittany Murphy and Simon Monjack,” the forensic pathologist Dr. Richard Shepherd is quoted as stating that the couple’s moldy home likely had a debilitating effect on them and contributed to their deaths as a result of pneumonia in 2009 and 2010.

Read The Brittany Murphy Article

 

In “Could Almanzo and Laura Ingalls Wilder Have Been Toxic Mold Victims?” (currently the most popular article on the Paradigm Change sites), I discuss whether living in what seems to have been a problematic house could have caused the couple to come down with and almost die from a particularly bad bout of diphtheria (a respiratory illness caused by the bacterium Corynebacterium diphtheriae) in 1886.

Read The Laura Ingalls Wilder Article

 

In another recent Paradigm Change blog article – “Is Lyme Disease An Environmental Illness? (And What’s Mold Got To Do With It?)” – Bryan Rosner discusses the idea that exposure to moldy buildings and outdoor toxins may be an important factor that increases the likelihood that individuals will be made sick by tick-borne infections rather than being able to keep them under control.

(I would like to thank Bryan for his contributions to this coronavirus article as well.)

Read The Lyme Disease Article

 

In an interesting line of research, Dr. Pauline Jolly of the University of Alabama at Birmingham and her colleagues present evidence from their work in Africa that mycotoxins in food make people more susceptible to acquiring HIV as well as to having the virus go active enough to cause AIDS symptoms.

This makes me suspect that environmental mycotoxins might have the ability to do the same thing and that the AIDS epidemic in the U.S. may have been in part driven by exposures to the environmental mold toxins that began to emerge as a problem in buildings here in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s.

Note that the first cases of the AIDS epidemic occurred in the early 1980’s in the San Francisco Bay Area – the exact same time and place as the first cases of the ME/CFS epidemic discussed in the next section of this article.

Read About the Mycotoxin/AIDS Connection

 

While the mechanisms by which environmental mold may impact the immune system are still not fully understood, an article by Jay Davidson provides some basic information on the topic.

A study from about a year ago provides some additional information on the effects that gliotoxin (a mycotoxin made by Aspergillus fumigatus) has on immune function.

A brand-new research paper from the U.K. discussing the apparent problems that the immune system may have when trying to simultaneously deal with viral infections and fungal infections also seems to have particular potential relevance to this topic.

Addendum 3/7/20:  A research article published in late 2018 suggested that being infected with the fungal disease called White-Nose Syndrome led to vastly increased amounts of shedding with a coronavirus in bats.

 

The Lake Tahoe Mystery Disease was featured on NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw in 1986.

The Lake Tahoe Epidemic

Lake Tahoe illness survivor Erik Johnson has stated repeatedly during the 35 years since the outbreak that it was his observation that all the individuals who got permanently sick from the flu-like illness that swept through the Tahoe-Truckee area in 1985-86 were living or working in unusually moldy buildings.

A few of the individuals who got sick with the flu-like illness died as a result of it; some appeared to entirely recover from it; and many remained permanently sick with a chronic serious illness of the sort that the CDC is now calling “ME/CFS.”

The flu-like illness was originally referred to as the China Flu and was suspected by local physicians Dan Peterson and Paul Cheney as having been brought to the Lake Tahoe area by an individual who visited China in late 1984.

The book The Role of Toxic Mold in Chronic Fatigue Syndrome includes the following quote from Erik Johnson:

When the “Tahoe Mystery Illness” raged through Incline Village, I was astonished to see the amazingly strong correlation between these bad places and those who went on to become chronically ill.

I only know what I saw:

That in certain specific biotoxin-laden Sick Building Syndrome environments, the “whatever” was capable of being very infectious by casual contact, with a savagely quick incubation period of 24-48 hours.

After that initial phase, the capacity for transmission seemed to just disappear.

 

Erik observed that people living or working or going to school in buildings that felt particularly problematic to him were more likely to get sick with the Tahoe Flu and much more likely to be triggered into permanent illness by it.

Insofar as the those people were spending time in specific geographic areas (such as the central part of Incline Village) that felt particularly problematic to Erik, they were even more likely to be very severely affected by the flu-like illness, Erik stated.

A pair of epidemiologists looking at the cluster outbreaks of “chronic fatigue syndrome” that occurred in California in the 1980’s noted a connection to “sick buildings” as well and published papers on their findings in 1994 and 1997.

Erik said that while he tried to convince doctors and other health officials to look into the mold connection while the epidemic was going on, he was hindered by the fact that there was no evidence in the literature at the time that environmental mold could cause any health effects other than allergies.

Erik commented:

My complaint from the first day of the CFS epidemic was that I have “an inexorably increasing reactivity to mold that grows progressively worse no matter where I live or how well I take care of myself.”

This was the anomaly that doctors always considered to be the total consequence of the “Yuppie Flu” – no matter how many times I explained that this preceded the infection that went through Incline Village.

Many people caught that strange flu-like illness at the same time, but not all went on to become chronically ill or eventually be called CFS cases.

I proposed that if not all people succumbed to perpetual illness, one might consider that a more primary cause of CFS might be whatever difference existed between those who recovered and those who did not.

A reactivity in the presence of specific mycotoxins was the commonality that I saw in the Truckee teacher cluster, the girlsʼ basketball team, and the teachers at North Tahoe High school – as well as many of the other original CFS cohort survivors who all manifested reactions when we encountered mold plumes.

Mycotoxin susceptibility appeared to be the common denominator.

The other members of the “Tahoe Mystery Illness” that I accompanied into mold zones appeared to be similarly affected.

As the “Yuppie Flu” epidemic progressed, I had the opportunity to accompany many of the other original CFS cohort members into moldy buildings and they all shared that same abnormal mold response, although they always blamed it on something else.

 

It has been my observation that typical new cases of ME/CFS in the years since the epidemic have manifested as Erik describes – with sufferers showing illness signs prior to coming down with a severe flu-like illness from which they do not ever fully recover, and with their virtually always reporting that they have been living or working in unusually problematic conditions with regard to mold toxicity once they start seriously looking into the issue.

 

Taking Precautions

The possibility that coronavirus conceivably could be a particular threat to those already experiencing health effects associated with toxic mold illness makes it seem that these individuals may want to be especially vigilant at this time to protect themselves from exposures to the virus.

Following is a list of commonsense strategies (compiled as a result of reading many different articles on the topic) that may be worth considering during this high-risk and high-uncertainty time period.

Since most of these strategies are useful for mold avoidance purposes as well as preventing illness of all sorts, efforts will not be entirely wasted even if coronavirus does not turn out to be much of a threat to this population after all, I think.

 

1. Avoid going to public places at all unless there is a compelling reason to do so.

2. Avoid going to environments (especially indoor environments) where many people are present.

3. Avoid going to doctors’ offices, hospitals or other places where sick people are likely to be.

4. Since the virus is thought to spread through fecal contamination, avoid using public restrooms.

5. Avoid physical contact (such as handshakes or hugging) with other people outside of the immediate family.

6. When in a situation where it is impossible to keep from touching things (such as doorknobs or currency) that might be contaminated, wear disposable gloves and then throw them away as soon as possible.

7. Avoid bringing objects that cannot be easily cleaned (such as purses or books) into public places.

8. Avoid bringing electronics such as phones into public places or clean them thoroughly after any such exposures.

9. Remove shoes that have been worn to public places immediately upon return to the home and store them in a box or other contained space.

10. When returning home from going out, immediately take a thorough shower and put clothing aside in a plastic bag to be laundered as soon as possible.

11. Keep hands clean by washing them frequently with soap and water, but not in public restrooms.  (I am thinking that bringing along a bottle of water and some liquid soap to use to wash my hands outdoors may be worthwhile, for instance.)

12. Avoid eating restaurant food, takeout food, or uncooked food such as lettuce.

13. Take substantial amounts of zinc and possibly also Vitamin C. (Dr. Mary Ackerley provides some additional supplement suggestions in the Reviewer Comments section toward the bottom of this article.)

14. Put products received via mail order aside for a week or more before opening, to allow any coronavirus contamination time to become inactive.

15. Step up mold avoidance activities, including spending more time being as clear as possible (such as by hiking or camping outdoors in good locations).

16. While wearing a mask (if you can find one) is not necessarily a bad idea, it seems that transmission is more likely to occur as a result of touching contaminated surfaces and then bringing hands to nose, mouth or eyes.  Focusing more attention on keeping hands clean therefore may a better strategy.

 

It also seems to me that individuals with mold-related illness may want to be especially careful to avoid contact with other individuals with this type of chronic illness, since it is possible that those individuals may be infected with the disease or even be super-spreaders regardless of whether they have started demonstrating coronavirus illness symptoms.

I stopped meeting in person with ME/CFS/CIRS/Lyme/etc. patients about five years ago, due mostly to hearing numerous stories that have made me concerned about the possibility of catching from such individuals various infections that might be especially problematic for me. (Concerns about cross-contamination with particularly problematic mold toxins have been a contributing but much more minor factor in my decision.)

The coronavirus threat makes this strategy one that may be especially worthy of consideration at this time by other chronic illness sufferers, I think.

In addition, it is seeming to me that insofar as it is necessary to engage in high-risk activities such as visiting a doctor or taking an airplane trip, procrastinating for as long as possible might be a good idea.

The reason for this is that it appears that there are multiple strains of coronavirus, with some being much more aggressive than others.

Typically when this phenomenon is present, the more aggressive strains recede over time (possibly due to their killing or incapacitating their victims and thus not being spread around as much) and milder strains take over.

This already seems to be happening with the coronavirus epidemic, and Erik Johnson reported a similar phenomenon having happened in the Lake Tahoe illness epidemic as well.

By delaying risky activities, it is possible that even if coronavirus is eventually acquired, it will be less likely to be the aggressive strain and thus less likely to cause serious illness.

 

Keeping A Watchful Eye Out

The main reason that I decided to write this article is to encourage others in the mold community to keep a close eye on the coronavirus epidemic as it unfolds and to consider whether what we learn about it suggests that there actually may be a mold connection to it.

As more cases of the disease emerge, it should be relatively easy to be able to tell whether they tend to be associated with buildings or locations that are known to be especially problematic by those who are hypersensitive to toxic mold and who are making special efforts to avoid it.

A mapping project by The New York Times presents a continually updated list of all coronavirus cases reported in the U.S.

I hope that individuals will share any observations that they may have, either in the comments section for this article or in the Mold Avoiders Facebook group.

In addition, I would like to hear reports about anyone with mold-related illness who ends up being diagnosed with coronavirus or who is experiencing a flu-like condition that seems like it could be coronavirus.

Hopefully that will allow me to get a better sense of whether the conjectures that I have made in this article have any basis in reality.

Of course, I will keep any information provided to me confidential (as I keep all other health information provided to me privately by individuals confidential).

Please feel free to write to me via email (lisapetrison at gmail dot com) or via Facebook PM if you have any information or thoughts that you would like to share.

 

Reviewer Comments

Mary Ackelery, M.D., is a psychiatrist treating mold illness patients and the current president of the International Society for Environmentally Acquired Illness (ISEAI). She provided the following comments to be included with this article:

A simple way to understand mold illness is that it makes all preexisting illness worse.  

In particular, however, respiratory illnesses such as asthma, pneumonitis hypersensitivity , fungal colonization and pulmonary hypertension are documented in the literature as being related to mold exposure.

Mycoplasma, which causes bronchitis and walking pneumonia,  grows in water damaged buildings, and I have a high number of patients with elevated IgG and sometimes IgM antibodies  

It seems reasonable to suggest that current mold exposure would elevate the seriousness of coronavirus exposure, especially those with preexisting lung issues often related to mold exposure. 

I have been recommending to my most seriously ill patients that they take avoidance seriously starting now. Many physicians feel that the number of US cases is sharply underreported because of the shortage of testing kits.

I have been recommending to patients basic supplements such as making sure to be taking Vitamin D looking for levels at 60 to 80 (check prior labs); Vitamin A in a micellized formulation at the upper limit of the RDA which is 10000 IU per day; and at least 3 grams per day of Vitamin C in divided doses, higher if feeling actively ill.  

I also recommend Researched Nutritionals Transfer Factor Multi Immune which improves NK  and macrophage activity, as well as a probiotic.  

This is what I have my family and staff doing.

Beyond that, I think Stephen Buhner’s protocol of coronavirus, as well as explanation of the mechanisms of SARS corona, is the best writing I have found to understand how this works and what herbs could be most useful. 

It goes without saying that avoiding mold is highly beneficial.

 

Keith Berndtson, M.D., is a specialist in mold-related illness issues and the current secretary of ISEAI. He provided the following comments to be shared with this article:

The toxic and inflammatory effects of damp buildings and indoor mold exposure are well described in peer-reviewed literature, to a point where it is reasonable to argue that mold exposure disrupts front-line innate immune defenses in the upper and lower respiratory locations.

The innate response in those exposed becomes dysregulated and alveolar macrophages and tissue-based dendritic cells cannot perform their jobs, making invasions by respiratory viruses virtually unchallenged.

So the scientific literature support this prima-facie case for linking COV-19 critical and fatal illness with certain cities and buildings may be borne out.

It is easier to factually support the position than it is to refute it. 

 

David C. Straus is a professor of immunology and molecular microbiology at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center (retired in 2013) who has written numerous research articles on the effects of mycotoxins on human health. He provided the following comments to be shared with this article.

Dr. Petrison’s article “Could The Coronavirus Epidemic Have a Toxic Mold Connection” is very well written, very informative, and very timely.

The only thing I would change is the title because I believe it is now a “Pandemic” because it is now on every continent except Antarctica (and we know why that continent has been spared – so far).

The one thing to get out about this pandemic that is the most important is the truth. The Chinese government was late in doing just that and we can see the results of that in that country.

We must not allow that to happen here in the US. We must put our trust in the scientific experts in this area and not in any politicians that would dispute their advice.

Indeed, the U.S. ambassador to China, former Iowa Governor Terry Branstad said today (March 6, 2020)  about the coronavirus outbreak there (China),”It’s like nothing I’ve ever dealt with before” – and he has dealt with floods, hurricanes, plane crashes, and other disasters.

Given that this virus hits people with predisposing medical problems, it would not be surprising to discover that people in water damaged and moldy  buildings would be more at risk to this virus than people not in said buildings.

It is well-established that some  mycotoxins are very dangerous, causing a wide variety of different ailments including immunosuppression.

Therefore it would be very interesting to find out if living or working in a moldy (and therefore likely mycotoxin-containing) environment would predispose one to more serious consequences following a coronavirus exposure and infection.

Dr. Petrison is to be commended for asking this very important question.

 

About The Author

Lisa Petrison is the founder of Paradigm Change and Mold Avoiders.

She previously worked as a business school professor, a marketing consultant and a journalist.

She holds a Ph.D. in marketing and psychology from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, as well as B.S. and M.S. degrees from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern.

 

Pursuing Mold Avoidance

The approach to mold avoidance that is the focus of the Mold Avoiders discussion forums was pioneered by Erik Johnson and is outlined in the book A Beginner’s Guide to Mold Avoidance. 

The book was written by Lisa Petrison and Erik Johnson.

It is available for free in PDF format to those signing up for occasional email newsletters from Mold Avoiders.

The book is also available from Amazon in paperback and Kindle versions.

The new Mold Avoiders discussion forum is run by Lisa Petrison and designed to help those who are seriously interested in pursuing the approach to mold avoidance described in the book to get their questions answered.

Only those who have been approved as Mold Avoiders Participants can read or post in the forum.

The Mold Avoiders Facebook group is designed for more casual conversations among those who are interested in this approach to mold avoidance.

The Mold Avoiders Facebook group now has 13,000 members and is an active source of community discussion about new media/blog articles and videos on relevant topics; new research articles; member polls; participant photos/stories; and various other issues currently of interest.

The page Mold Avoidance Resources on the Paradigm Change website provides many additional links to materials useful for those interested in pursuing this kind of mold avoidance.

The remarkable life of Erik Johnson (including details about the Lake Tahoe epidemic) is summarized in the book Back from the Edge, written by Lisa Petrison.

A PDF copy of the book is available for free to those signing up for occasional email newsletters from Paradigm Change.

An Amazon Kindle version is also available.

 

Links on this page are in orange (no underlining).

 

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