When mold becomes an enemy

The harmful traits of certain molds also have a long history. In the sixth century B.C. C., the Assyrians used the mold Claviceps purpurea to poison their enemies’ wells, an ancient form of biological warfare. In the Middle Ages, this same mold, which sometimes forms on rye, caused many people to have epileptic seizures, painful burning sensations, gangrene, and hallucinations. Now called ergotism, the disease was named Saint Anthony’s fire because many victims, hoping for a miraculous cure, made a pilgrimage to Saint Anthony’s sanctuary in France.

The most potent carcinogenic (cancer-causing) substance known is aflatoxin, a toxin produced by molds. In an Asian country, 20,000 deaths a year are attributed to aflatoxin. This lethal compound has been used in modern biological weapons.

In everyday life, however, the symptoms of exposure to common molds are more of a nuisance than a serious health threat. “Most molds, even if you can smell them, are not harmful,” says the UC Berkeley Wellness Letter. People who commonly have an adverse reaction include those with lung disorders, such as asthma; people with allergies, chemical sensitivities, or a weakened immune system; and farm workers who may be exposed to massive amounts of mold. Babies and the elderly may also be more susceptible to the effects of mold exposure.

According to the California Department of Health Services in the United States, mold can cause the following symptoms: ‘Respiratory problems, such as wheezing, shortness of breath, and shortness of breath; nasal and sinus congestion; eye irritation (burning, watery, or red eyes); dry, harsh cough; nose or throat irritation; skin rashes or irritation.’

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