The term “toxic mold” is often used interchangeably with “black mold or black fungus.”
The three main types of black mold that concern the health of humans and have gained the most media attention are Stachybotrys chartarum, Aspergillus, and Candida. All of these molds produce dangerous mycotoxins, which have been proven to be very toxic, carcinogenic, and even fatal to humans.
So the quick answer to this question is yes, black mold can kill you, and more than a million people die every year from fungal infections. In this article, I will detail the facts and science about why molds can be so dangerous to humans.
The U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) says, “Fungal diseases can cause serious illness and death. Scientists are still learning about how many people in the United States are affected.”
According to the CDC, the burden is difficult to estimate because:
1. Many fungal diseases go undiagnosed.
2. There is no public health surveillance for common fungal infections, such as ringworm and vaginal candidiasis.
The CDC estimates that:
Fungal diseases cost $7.2 billion in direct medical costs in 2017 based on administrative coding data (table). The total costs are likely much higher when including indirect and societal costs.” (1)
According to the University of Toronto:
“Globally, fungi kill more than 1.5 million people a year. In the U.S., Candida fungi account for almost 90 percent of hospital-acquired fungal infections, and in Canada they’re the third most common cause of bloodstream infections in intensive care units. More than 40 percent of people with a systemic Candida albicans infection will die.”
The University of Toronto’s Leah Cowen, a professor in the department of molecular genetics, said:
“Fungal superbugs are a cause of just as much human mortality worldwide as some bacterial pathogens,” Cowan says. They’re killing about 1.5 million people per year, which is on par with bacterial pathogens such as those causing tuberculosis or the parasites causing malaria.”
Yet drug-resistant fungi don’t get nearly the attention their bacterial cousins do.
“Fungi mostly affect immune-compromised individuals,” she explains. “Most fungal pathogens are opportunistic, so they can only cause disease when provided an opportunity. This means the major patient groups are transplant recipients, people undergoing chemotherapy for cancer treatment and people infected with HIV.”
“The global burden is much greater in places like sub-Saharan Africa,” she says. “Fungal superbugs don’t rank as much of a threat to the average North American or European, so there’s less media attention. We didn’t get nearly as concerned about Ebola, for example, until it came to North America and Europe.” (2)
A 2020 study, Fungal infections in humans: the silent crisis, estimated that “Humankind has been plagued by infectious diseases throughout history, and the ongoing COVID-19 (Coronavirus disease 2019) pandemic is a daunting reminder that this susceptibility persists in our modern society. After all, communicable diseases remain one of the leading causes of death worldwide.”
“Unfortunately, some of these “microbial threats” have been underestimated and neglected by healthcare authorities, although they endanger millions of lives each year all over the world. Fungal infections (FIs) represent an example of such overlooked emerging diseases, accounting for approximately 1.7 million deaths annually. To put these numbers in perspective, tuberculosis is reported to cause 1.5 million deaths/year and malaria around 405,000 deaths/year.” (3)
In another 2020 study, Invasive fungal disease in humans: are we aware of the real impact?, the researcher stated;
“Despite the medical advances and interventions to improve the quality of life of those in intensive care, people with cancer or severely immunocompromised or other susceptible hosts, invasive fungal diseases (IFD) remain severe and underappreciated causes of illness and death worldwide. Therefore, IFD continue to be a public health threat and a major hindrance to the success of otherwise life-saving treatments and procedures.
Globally, hundreds of thousands of people are affected every year with Candida albicans, Aspergillus fumigatus, Cryptococcus neoformans, Pneumocystis jirovecii, endemic dimorphic fungi and Mucormycetes, the most common fungal species causing invasive diseases in humans. These infections result in morbidity and mortality rates that are unacceptable and represent a considerable socioeconomic burden.” (4)
The Coronavirus pandemic has caused an increase in deaths from fungal infections. A 2022 study found;
“Deaths from fungal infection increased during 2020–2021 compared with previous years, primarily driven by COVID-19–associated deaths, particularly those involving Aspergillus and Candida.” (5)
“Mucormycosis (sometimes called zygomycosis) is a serious but rare fungal infection caused by a group of molds called mucormycetes. These fungi live throughout the environment”
Mucormycosis is frequently a life-threatening infection. A review of published mucormycosis cases found an overall all-cause mortality rate of 54%. The mortality rate varied depending on underlying patient condition, type of fungus, and body site affected (for example, the mortality rate was 46% among people with sinus infections, 76% for pulmonary infections, and 96% for disseminated mucormycosis).” (6)
These molds and their mycotoxins are so deady, they are being used for modern warfare by militaries around the world.
The Rand Corporation had released research showing that after the U.S. and Iraq War, Iraq informed the United Nations (UN) that it had produced weapons and chemical war heads using the aflatoxins from the mold known as Aspergillus and several trichothecene toxins (PAC, 1996a, 1996b; Zilinskas, 1997). Aflatoxins can possibly enhance the toxicity of trichothecene mycotoxins after the latter were recognized as military agents (U.S. Army, 1990; Schultz, 1982).
The researchers from the Rand Corp. said;
“Iraq’s decision for placing aflatoxins in long-range missiles has surprised and puzzled analysts, but one of the theories is that there were used for the long-term potential for carcinogenesis was used to terrorize civilian populations. It was not certain about what military effects would result from use of aflatoxins, they are capable of producing death, seizures, respiratory injury, nausea, vomiting, and liver failure, which would be militarily significant (Chao et al., 1991; Northup et al., 1995; Jakab et al., 1994; Bourgeois, 1971a, 1971b). (7)
If this could be done with weapons, then common sense would show that a water damaged home with the same molds and mycotoxins would have the same effects on humans.
How Does Black Mold Make You Sick
As mold grows, it releases spores into the air, which can cause respiratory problems such as coughing and wheezing. If you have asthma or allergies then these spores may trigger an asthma attack or other allergic reactions such as skin rashes, watery eyes, and runny noses.
In some cases, people with weakened immune systems may experience more severe reactions such as fever or vomiting and death from inhaling these toxins.
The mycotoxins from black molds like stachybotrys and aspergillus are known to cause serious health problems including liver damage, lung cancer, brain tumors, and even death if exposure is prolonged enough. The effects normally depend upon the type of mold and the number of mycotoxins that you’re exposed to.
The effects of exposure are usually temporary and may include coughing and wheezing, nasal congestion, eye irritation, fatigue, dizziness, skin irritation and rashes. Long-term exposure can cause asthma attacks, and aggravate existing respiratory conditions such as bronchitis or emphysema, and increase susceptibility to other infections such as pneumonia or meningitis.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Exposure to high levels of these molds can cause health problems in people with chronic medical conditions and compromised immune systems, such as infants and young children, pregnant women, older adults, or those who have diabetes mellitus or are malnourished.”
The CDC adds, “People who have asthma and allergies may be more likely to experience adverse health effects after exposure to mold.”
According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms include:
Mild fever with headaches (less common), dizziness or confusion; flu-like symptoms that come and go over several weeks; dry cough; shortness of breath; fatigue; nose bleeds.”
As I mentioned above, stachybotrys chartarum is sometimes referred to as “black toxic mold” or “toxic black mold.”
It is found mostly in water-damaged buildings, but it can also grow outdoors on wet building materials such as wood, paper, and leaves.
Stachybotrys chartarum produces trichothecene mycotoxins, which have been known to cause severe illness in humans. Symptoms include lung damage, skin irritations, and gastrointestinal problems such as vomiting and diarrhea.
In extreme cases, exposure to this type of mold can lead to death from respiratory failure or kidney failure.
Aspergillus is another type of mold that produces toxins called aflatoxins. These toxins may be found in foods such as peanuts, grains and corn that have been contaminated by Aspergillus spores during growth.
Exposure to high levels of aflatoxin has been linked with liver cancer in humans.
If you suspect that your home or workplace has been exposed to these types of molds, contact a professional immediately so they can isolate the affected areas before they spread throughout your home or workplace environment and cause more damage than necessary.
- Center for Disease Control (CDC)
- University of Toronto
- Fungal infections in humans: the silent crisis
- Invasive fungal disease in humans: are we aware of the real impact?
- Increased Deaths From Fungal Infections During the Coronavirus Disease 2019 Pandemic
- Rand Corporation: Chemical and Biological Warfare Agents
Moe Bedard is the founder of Mold Safe Inspections and manager at Mold Safe Solutions. A full-service Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) company specializing in property water damage, mold inspections, consultations, and mold remediation.
If you need help with a project, please call 760-818-6830.