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Dad Blames Dorm Mold for Daughter's Death From Adenovirus—Here's What an Expert Says

Health.com logo Health.com 2018-11-26 Jessica Migala
© Provided by TIME Inc.

Did mold in a University of Maryland dorm contribute to the death of freshman Olivia Paregol last week? Paregol died from complications of adenovirus, a common virus spread through close personal contact. After his daughter's death, her father said that mold in her dorm room may have played a role.

"It didn't help the illness," Ian Paregol said, according to CBS Baltimore. "I think that's a really fair statement. We don't know that there's causation, yet, but it didn't help things." Though the university has confirmed at least six other cases of adenovirus, school officials haven’t verified that the mold was directly responsible for the virus, according to CBS News.

The tragic death of a college student and scary allegations that mold may be to blame might make you think about your own health and how mold can affect you. “Mold is everywhere,” Albert Rizzo, MD, chief medical officer at the American Lung Association, tells Health. Usually mold grows outdoors, but a damp environment can cause it to thrive in your home. You might be able to see mold as a dark discoloration or stain on the wall or floor, but it may also not be visible, he says,

Dr. Rizzo says there is no direct relationship between adenovirus and mold. Even so, mold's airborne spores can trigger a range of health woes, like these.

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Mold sets off allergy symptoms

“Mold spores are small enough so that you can inhale them deep into your lung,” says Dr. Rizzo. Though not everyone reacts to the presence of mold in their airways, if you’re sensitive to it, your immune system may kick in, triggering a nasty attack of hay fever–like symptoms such as nasal congestion, red eyes, or itchy eyes and skin, notes the CDC.

Mold makes you cough

Even if you don’t have allergies or another respiratory issue, mold can still irritate lungs and cause a cough, says Dr. Rizzo. “Wheezing and cough may be the first sign of an allergy or that you’ve been exposed to a significant enough amount of mold that it’s compromising your airways,” he says.

Mold can lead to a respiratory illness

People with a weakened immune system are especially susceptible to the ill effects of mold exposure. (Paregol said that this was the case for his daughter, who had Crohn’s disease.) It’s possible, though, that mold inhalation can lead to airway inflammation, which then may leave a vulnerable individual susceptible to another infection.

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Mold can cause a lung infection

Another potential mold-borne problem for someone with a compromised immune system? “Mold can get a foothold in your lung and put you at a higher risk of developing a lung infection,” says Dr. Rizzo. One such infection caused by mold is aspergillosis. Mild cases trigger allergy-like symptoms; however, an invasive form can spread to other parts of the body, such as the brain, heart, and kidneys, and it can be fatal, says the Mayo Clinic.

Mold may lead to asthma

Even if you’re healthy, exposure to mold may contribute to the development of asthma, a chronic condition that impacts breathing; asthma attacks can even be life-threatening. (And FYI, once you have asthma, it doesn’t go away.) Kids who were exposed to “visible mold” were at an increased risk for developing asthma or suffering from worsening asthma symptoms, according to a 2018 paper in the European Respiratory Review.

How to protect yourself from mold

Keep humidity levels in your home below 50%. If you know you have water damage behind walls or suspect it, you'll need to hire professionals to clean out the mold that has likely resulted—especially if you’re experiencing any of the symptoms on this list. Your lungs are worth it.

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