Aspergillosis is an infection caused by aspergillus, a type of fungus or mold that is commonly found in our environment. Most people are constantly exposed to aspergillus during the course of their everyday lives, with no ill effects. For most healthy adults, aspergillosis poses a an extremely small risk of serious illness or infection. However, for individuals with compromised immune systems, aspergillosis can be a potentially life-threatening problem. As a result, individuals whose immune systems are compromised as a result of specific health conditions or medications (e.g. long-term steroid use) should take care to avoid aspergillus when they can.
Realize that exposure to aspergillus is not really a problem for healthy people.
This is because aspergillosis primarily strikes people who have compromised immune systems. As a result, aspergillus and aspergillosis infection is not a substantial risk to healthy people. This is because healthy immune systems are typically able to fight off aspergillus mold relatively quickly.
Understand that it is nearly impossible to avoid exposure to aspergillus.
Aspergillus is all around us. It is in the air we breathe, in the homes and buildings we live and work in, and is even in some of the food items we eat. As a result, you should have realistic expectations about how you can minimize exposure to aspergillus and avoid aspergillosis.
Know the different forms of aspergillosis.
Aspergillosis, as an infection and disease, manifests in several forms. Each of these forms is more prone to strike individuals with different health problems. As a result, you need to evaluate your risk based on your general health level. Major forms of aspergillosis include:
Allergic pulmonary aspergillosis. This is an allergic reaction to aspergillus spores. People with outstanding lung problems like asthma are much more prone to this variety of aspergillosis.
Aspergilloma. This is when a fungus ball grows in an individual’s lung that has previously been scared by diseases like tuberculosis.
Invasive pulmonary aspergillosis. This is an infection that can ultimately lead to pneumonia. This infection afflicts people who have weakened immune systems like people with AIDS, cancer, or leukemia.
Consult your doctor.
If you are worried about aspergillosis infection, make sure to consult your doctor. Ultimately, your doctor is your best resource in determining your risk level. As a result, if you are concerned about aspergillosis, you should maintain an on-going dialogue with your doctor.
Talk to your doctor about your risk level.
If your doctor determines you are high risk, make sure to see him or her regularly.
Inform your doctor if you’ve ever had an aspergillosis infection before.
Exercise care if you have a compromised immune system.
If you have a compromised immune system for any reason, you need to exercise extra care. This means you need to avoid certain activities or protect yourself when engaged in certain activities where aspergillus mold might be present.
While everyone should take precautions during yard work, a compromised immune system puts you at extra risk. It is advisable to hire someone to do yard work for you.
Anyone with a compromised immune system should where a face mask or respirator if they know they will be exposed to mold.
People with asthma or cystic fibrosis should always take extra precautions, as they are more susceptible to aspergillosis than those with a healthy immune system.
Take prophylactic antifungal medication, if you have a compromised immune system.
Taking anti-fungal medication as a way of protecting yourself against expected exposure to aspergillus is one way to reduce risk and prevent aspergillosis. Anti-fungal medication will bolster your body and immune system against any aspergillus or other fungal agents you come in contact with. When considering prophylactic anti-fungal medication:
Talk to your doctor.
Think about any risk you will have in the near future.
Patients with compromised immune systems should consider this treatment if they will be outdoors in locations where they might be exposed to aspergillus, such as on vacation in a tropical climate.
Know that antifungal medication is not a long-term solution. In most cases, you should not take antifungals as a prophylactic for more than a few days to two weeks.
Take care in high risk regions or during certain times of the year.
It is impossible to completely avoid aspergillus exposure, as it is present in all parts of the United States and throughout the world. However, it is most prevalent in warm and wet locations. As a result, certain regions and certain times of the year offer higher risk than others. If you are immunocompromised and at high risk for aspergillus infection, consider taking extra precautions in regions and during seasons where/when aspergillus is particularly prevalent.
Certain regions like the Northwest or Southeast United States are much more hospitable to aspergillus. The wet season in these regions is a particular time when aspergillus may be prevalent.
While regions like the American Southwest may be less hospitable to aspergillus, the fungus is still present there.
Aspergillus grows best in a range between 53 degrees Fahrenheit and 149 degrees Fahrenheit.
Avoid areas with decaying vegetation, if you are immunocompromised.
Areas with lots of decaying vegetation are areas with increased risk of aspergillus. When you are in these areas, you are more likely to be exposed to large amounts of aspergillus fungal spores. Such exposure can increase the chance of you developing aspergillosis if you have a severely weakened immune system.
Watch out for wooded areas with decaying branches, leaves, and other organic material.
If you are an avid hiker or outdoors person, frequent areas that are open and where natural air circulation is better.
Use a dust mask.
If you need to be in a moldy building or in high risk areas outdoors, you should use a dust mask. Wearing a dust mask can drastically cut down on exposure to aspergillus spores that may be in the air or put into the air by human activity. As a result, anyone looking to limit exposure to aspergillus should wear a dusk mask.
Dusk masks can be purchased at local hardware or big box stores.
Some masks offer more protection than others. HEPA masks are perhaps the best solution, but they can be pricey. Other less expensive masks still offer a level of protection.
Masks range in cost from less than a dollar to twenty or thirty for high-end HEPA masks.
To use a dusk mask, carefully put it over your mouth and nose. Secure any nose clamp or other methods of fastening and closing the mask. Make sure the mask is snug on your face and you can breath easily.
Limit gardening and lawn work, if you are immunocompromised.
Another major activity that puts immunocompromised people at risk of coming into contact with aspergillus is gardening and lawn work. As a common type of mold, aspergillus is found all around us in nature. If you have a severely weakened immune system as a result of certain types of illnesses or medications, consider limiting outdoor work so you can prevent aspergillosis.
Watch out for decaying vegetation when working in your garden.
Consider having a lawn care company mow your lawn and take care of your landscaping.
Exercise extra care if you have a compost pile in your backyard. Compost piles are excellent habitats for aspergillus.
Plan gardening and lawn work for cool and low humidity days.
Reduce your exposure to indoor buildings with mold.
One of the best ways to reduce your overall risk of an aspergillosis infection is to limit exposure to indoor environments that contain mold, as aspergillus is a common type of mold. Indoor areas offer extra risk because of potentially limited ventilation and low air. Take the following steps:
Do not enter buildings that may have mold growth.
Wear a filter/dust mask when working or playing in dusty environments.
If you have any concern about a building that may have mold, avoid it.
Make sure your home is cool and has low humidity.
If you have a compromised immune system, one way to lower your risk of aspergillosis is to create an environment in which it does not thrive. You can do this by making sure your home air conditioner is working well, and your humidity is relatively low as well. Make sure to:
Set your air conditioner to 75 or lower.
Monitor your humidity and take steps to keep it below 50%.
Stay proactive about maintaining your air conditioning unit.
Monitor the air quality in your home (and at work).
Another good way to lower your risk of aspergillosis is to monitor the air quality in your home or at work. Testing your air quality will let you know if there are mold or other fungal spores in your air. As a result, you’ll know better how to mitigate any risks associated with aspergillus and aspergillosis infection.
Test your air quality every year to six months.
Contact a home inspector that can run air quality tests.
Air quality tests can cost from between $50 to $200, depending on how many rooms you are testing.
Air quality test kits are also available through mail order at your local hardware store.
Use an air purifier or HEPA filtration system.
One great way to prevent aspergillosis at home is to use an air purifier or have a HEPA filtration system running at all times. This way, the air purifier and HEPA system will filter out dangerous aspergillus out of the air you breathe.
Have a professional install an air filtration system in your home.
If you can’t afford an installed system, buy an air filter and keep it in areas of the house you frequent.
Use a portable air filtration system at work.