Background: The presence of visible mold in households is associated with asthma. However, the role of "classroom fungus" in the development of childhood asthma, as well as the fungal species that may lead to asthma, remains controversial. This nationwide school survey was conducted to investigate the correlation between fungal spores in classrooms and asthma in schoolchildren.
Methods: From April to May 2011, a cross-sectional survey was conducted to assess allergic/asthmatic conditions in schoolchildren aged 6 to 15 years old in 44 schools across Taiwan. Personal histories and current asthmatic conditions were collected using a modified International Study of Asthma and Allergies in Childhood questionnaire. Fungal spores in classroom were collected using a Burkard Personal Air Sampler and counted under light microscopy. Three-level hierarchical modeling was used to determine the complex correlation between fungal spores in classrooms and childhood asthma.
Results: The survey was completed by 6,346 out of 7,154 parents (88.7%). The prevalences of physician-diagnosed asthma, current asthma, and asthma with symptoms reduced on holidays or weekends (ASROH) were 11.7%, 7.5%, and 3.1%, respectively. The geometric mean spore concentrations of total fungi, Aspergillus/Penicillium, and basidiospores were 2,181, 49, and 318 spores/m3. Aspergillus/Penicillium and basidiospores were significantly correlated with current asthma and ASROH after adjusting for personal and school factors. Of those with current asthma, 41% reported relief of symptoms during weekends.
Conclusions: Classroom Aspergillus/Penicillium and basidiospores are significantly associated with childhood asthma and ASROH. Government health policy should explore environmental interventions for the elimination of fungal spores in classrooms to reduce the prevalence of childhood asthma.