Background: Children living in a damp house are more likely to suffer from respiratory symptoms and it has been suggested that exposure to fungi is an important contributing factor. However, more knowledge about underlying mechanisms for the association are needed.
Objective: To identify associations between measures of house dampness, levels of airborne fungal spores, housing factors and health outcomes in children.
Methods: Eighty households with 148 children between 7 and 14 years of age were recruited in the Latrobe Valley, Victoria, Australia. Some 36% of participating children were asthmatic. Six sampling visits were made to each house between March 1994 and February 1995 on a 2-monthly cycle. Samples for airborne total and viable fungal spores were collected from bedrooms, living rooms, kitchens and outdoors. A detailed dwelling characterization, using a questionnaire and inspection surveys, was carried out. Skin-prick tests were performed with extracts of common aeroallergens and a respiratory questionnaire was completed for each child.
Results: Large airborne fungal spore concentrations were recorded in association with: musty odour, water intrusion, high indoor humidity, limited ventilation through open windows, few extractor fans and failure to remove indoor mould growth. Visible mould growth or condensation evidence was associated with large concentrations of Cladosporium spores, but not with large total spore concentrations. Penicillium exposure was a risk factor for asthma, while Aspergillus exposure was a risk factor for atopy. Fungal allergies were more common among children exposed to Cladosporium or Penicillium in winter or to musty odour. Respiratory symptoms were marginally more common with exposure to Cladosporium or total spores in winter.
Conclusion: Indoor exposure to certain fungal genera in winter was a risk factor for asthma, atopy and respiratory symptoms in children. On the other hand, no significant associations were seen between average viable or total spore concentrations and child health. Actual measurements of fungal spores predict health outcomes better than reported dampness.