Relevance of airborne fungi and their secondary metabolites for environmental, occupational and indoor hygiene

Arch Microbiol. 2003 Jan-Feb;179(2):75-82. doi: 10.1007/s00203-002-0495-2. Epub 2002 Dec 6.


Airborne fungal contaminants are increasingly gaining importance in view of health hazards caused by the spores themselves or by microbial metabolites. In addition to the risk for infection, the allergenic and toxigenic properties, as well as the inflammatory effects are discussed in this review as possible health impacts of bioaerosols. A major problem is the lack of threshold values for pathogenic and non-pathogenic fungi, both in the workplace and in outdoor air. While the relevance of mycotoxins has been intensely studied in connection with contamination of food and feed, the possible respiratory uptake of mycotoxins from the air has so far not been sufficiently taken into account. Toxic secondary metabolites are expected to be present in airborne spores, and may thus occur in airborne dust and bioaerosols. Potential health risks cannot be estimated reliably unless exposure to mycotoxins is determined qualitatively and quantitatively. Microbial volatile organic compounds (MVOC) have been suggested to affect human health, causing lethargy, headache, and irritation of the eyes and mucous membranes of the nose and throat. The production of MVOC by fungi has been discussed in connection with domestic indoor microbial pollution, but the relevance of fungal metabolites in working environments remains insufficiently studied.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Air Microbiology
  • Air Pollution, Indoor / adverse effects*
  • Allergens / immunology
  • Environmental Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Fungi / immunology
  • Fungi / metabolism
  • Fungi / pathogenicity*
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / microbiology
  • Mycoses / immunology
  • Mycoses / microbiology*
  • Mycotoxins / analysis
  • Occupational Diseases / microbiology*
  • Occupational Exposure / adverse effects
  • Spores, Fungal / pathogenicity


  • Allergens
  • Mycotoxins