The health effects due to the mould Stachybotrys chartarum are controversial. Stachybotrys chartarum, also known by an old name as Stachybotrys atra, is a cellulose degrading fungus commonly found in soil and on materials rich in cellulose such as hay, straw, cereal grains, plant debris, wood pulp, paper, and cotton. Although Stachybotrys chartarum mainly survives as a saprophyte (i.e., by feeding on dead organic material), it has also been reported to cause root lesions on soybean.
Why is Stachybotrys chartarum so feared?
The first reports associating Stachybotrys chartarum with ill-health dates back to the 1930s. Horses and other animals fed with straw and grains in Ukraine and other parts of eastern Europe were found to develop disease symptoms such as irritation of the mouth, throat, and nose; shock; dermal necrosis; a decrease in leukocytes; hemorrhage; nervous disorder; and death. Russian scientists, in 1938 conducted intensive studies and demonstrated that these symptoms were due to mycotoxins produced by Stachybotrys chartarum that had grown on the cellulose rich straw. The disorders were subsequently named stachybotryotoxicosis. Stachybotryotoxicosis has also been reported in farm workers who handled contaminated straw. Recent studies have shown spores of Stachybotrys chartarum to contain high concentrations of highly toxic mycotoxins. In 1993-1994 an outbreak of pulmonary hemorrhage in infants in Cleveland, Ohio,USA, was initially attributed to Stachybotrys chartarum. Since this incidence, this mould has received a lot of media attention in North America and has been given various names such as “toxic mould” and “black mould”. Although studies associating the outbreak with this mould were later reviewed and thought not to provide enough evidence to associate the disease with Stachybotrys chartarum, there are still no studies to date to prove or disapprove this claim.
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