With the prevailing monsoons, yesterday’s floods and today’s wet conditions, diseases that thrive under wet conditions are at galore. The houses that were under the floods now serve as a breeding ground for indoor air pollutants. Mold is a form of indoor air pollution that thrives in the wet conditions. Mold functions as a potential allergen, pathogen and a toxinogen.
Sri Jayawardanapura University, Faculty of Medical Sciences, Professor and Immunologist, Neelika Malavige commented that mold is present throughout the year, regardless of whether it’s wet or dry. She says that allergenic mold is only harmful for those who are allergic rhinitis (cattah) or asthmatic.
“In wet season there is more mold. The presence of wet walls or any other wet areas in the house gives rise to extra mold growth. There are times when people don’t notice the mold in the house if it’s in a secluded place. If an asthma patient has a mold allergy this person would experience more severe asthma. This is the usual case in the wet season most people realize that their asthma gets worse or allergy gets worse. This is due to higher concentration of mold being present in the environment. Sri Lanka is number one in asthma deaths; this is not something to be proud of. Quite a lot of them also have mold allergies,” says Dr. Malavige. “This is not just found at home, this can be present in storehouses and warehouses as well. If the cardboard storing boxes get wet, mold would breed,” she says.
Dr Malavige prescribes plenty of sun light, few hours a day, along with good ventilation. “Otherwise rooms tend to get dark and humid, which is ideal for mold growth. Open your windows and let the sunlight do its work and make the room dry,” she says. Growing ivy on a wall that has not been water proofed is a bad idea. “This would provide a breeding ground for mold,” says Dr Malavige. “If there is a wall with dark coloured ( black) mold growing on it, one could paint it off with some rubber paint. This would serve as a good remedy,” says Dr.Malavige.
On the other hand, pathogenic mold is more dangerous. An example is Aspergillus fumigates. “If an individual develops an allergy to this particular mold it is possible to develop allergic bronchopulmonary aspergillosis which would damage the bronchioles in the lungs irreversibly. This condition has to be detected and treated.”
Toxinogenic molds produce mycotoxins or chemical toxins that could be inhaled, touched or ingested without knowledge. “Aflatoxins produced by molds have been linked with liver cancer,” says Dr Malavige. Aflatoxin is a carcinogen that grows on peanuts and grain. However, this is only a risk if individuals ingest raw grains.
Mold can give rise to skin diseases such as eczema. “Eczema is common in the aftermath of floods. Due to the wet conditions, growth of mold increases. They could even grow on your bed. Spores of mold cause allergic reactions. They could even survive the dry conditions,” says cosmetic surgeon and specialist in internal medicine, Nimal Gamage.
“This is common in people with asthma or allergic rhinitis which is commonly referred to as cattah. Dyshidrotic eczema is the most common form of eczema caused by mold. This gives rise to blisters on the hands. Nummular eczema is another form which looks similar to ringworm with its characteristic coin like shape. All eczema starts with dryness, severe itching and then forms a rash. This is usually accompanied by oozing,” he says.
“Individuals suffering by eczema should not expose affected areas to water. Baths should be short and they should use alternative to soap,” he elaborates. “For those people who have houses affected by flood, the best measure is to open all windows and doors and let in good ventilation. This would ensure their houses dry up fast,” he opined.
Ministry of health, disaster preparedness unit head, Dr. Hemantha Herath commented that they have already taken necessary steps to ensure health of the numbers affected by the floods. “At present, we are looking at environmental sanitization, where we focus on getting homes and the immediate environment back to normal. We are also working towards bringing back the health service to normal after the disaster. This includes replacement of health records that were destroyed and ensuring continued health services such as immunization to the groups that actually need the treatment. At the same time we are planning to provide additional health services to those affected via field level Clinique,” he elaborated. “The safe hospital initiative, which was already established by the time floods hit the country would stay fully operational. This framework is targeted at strengthening the ability of the hospitals to withstand disaster.”