HOLY HISTOPLASMOSIS BATMAN !!! – by Katie Long
January is here and with it comes new beginnings. The thought of a fresh start might make you want to breathe a sigh of relief, but WAIT! Before you open your mouth you might want to take a few moments to think about what you’re actually exposing your lungs to. Those two spongy organs are surrounded by a moist membrane that makes it easy for small particles and spores to settle in and become problematic. Living in a post-industrial society, contaminants in the air are part of daily life which makes it crucial to be in control of your personal Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) every chance you get.
In addition to maintenance and upkeep, a challenge to insuring the effectiveness of any A/C units is dealing with the wide variety of critters who find your business or home as comfy and cozy as you do. While the family cat or dog can compromise your IAQ with fur and dander, the critters I speak of, put them at risk as well. These particular varmints are of the winged variety, pigeons and bats, and in addition to taking up residency in homes or businesses they could be putting you at risk of contracting Histoplasmosis, a respiratory disease caused by airborne fungus of the nastiest variety.
Halloween might be long past, but the chance of having bats in your belfry or Air Handler Units has not decreased, especially if you live in Texas. The United States is home to 47 bat species. Texas has the highest bat diversity of all the states – 31 species in all. Eleven of those can be found in the greater Houston area. News coverage of the growing local bat population has mainly focused on risks related to rabies, but the disease which does not require contact with the beast yet can resemble tuberculosis gets nary a mention. The symptoms of Histoplasmosis are usually flu like and most of those infected don’t realize they have it, which is where the danger lies due to its ability to cause severe scaring of lung tissue or even spreading to other parts of the body such as the eyes or liver.
Histoplasma capsulatum, the fungus that causes the disease is primarily found in the temperate regions of the world and is the most common fungus in the United States. The fungal spores are usually inhaled when a person is exposed to soil with bat or bird droppings (the source of the fungus) but becomes an IAQ issue when these droppings end up in the AHU, return and supply ductwork of an unsuspecting building. This can occur if there is a rooftop unit for the birds to roost on or if the winged culprits find a way to sneak into the system itself. In most cases they nest in the return plenum but in some cases they can travel deep within the system, defecating all the while and many times not being able to find a way out.
Histoplasmosis is a serious IAQ and health hazard and HVAC systems compromised by either bats or pigeons should be dealt with immediately.
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