Your Pillow Is Likely Infected With Fungus

Scientists at the University of Manchester have discovered a new source of millions of fungal spores in a place where you probably spend the most time resting: On your bedroom pillow.

The fungal species commonly found in pillows -- aspergillus fumigatus -- is the most likely cause of disease, with aspergillosis being the leading cause of death in bone marrow transplant and leukemia patients.

The 10 pillows researchers analyzed-- made from feathers and synthetic sources and used from 1.5-20 years -- contained several thousand fungal spores per gram. As many as 16 different species were identified in each pillow (even higher numbers were found in synthetic pillows).

Aspergillus can also worsen asthma, particularly in adult patients who have suffered from it for many years, and create sinus problems in those who suffer from allergies.

A spore is structure of protein encapsulating bacterial DNA. It is formed by certain species of bacteria in conditions of low moisture, nutrients, temperature, etc. They are metabolically inactive and are incredibly tough to destroy. Once a spore finds itself in a suitable environment (like your nose or throat), it will germinate into a single bacterium and attempt to multiply.

Getting back to killing spores, bleach is a good sporicide, but your solution should be about 1:5, or at least 1:10 (You want a minimum of 2,500 ppm of chlorine in your solution, and normal household bleach is 5 percent available chlorine).

Hot water will not kill spores. Boiling water will not kill spores. Spores require a temperature of about 121 degrees (Celsius) to be destroyed, and boiling water only reaches 100 degrees (Celsius). Hospital supplies have to be autoclaved for 15 minutes to be sterilized. Basically, autoclaving involves superheated steam at high pressures to reach the required temperatures. Also, remember there are various levels of disinfectants. A cleaning agent doesn't kill spores unless it specifically says it's a sporicide, which is different from it being "antibacterial."

By the way, here is a list of contributors to the Fungal Research Trust, the "charitable organization" that funded this research: Fujisawa Corp., Oxford Glycosciences, F2G Ltd, Chronic Granulomatous Disorder Research Trust, Aventis, Janssen Research Foundation, Roche, Schering Plough Corporation, The Liposome Company, Merck, Imedex, Bristol Myers Squibb, Aronex Ltd, Vestar Inc, Eli Lilly, BioMerieux, Alza Corporation, Pfizer Inc, Zeneca Pharmaceuticals, Novartis, Phairson Ltd., GlaxoWellcome, The Gossett Trust, The Clear Group, British Medical Association, Basilea, Valeant and Orthobiotech.

Question: Are the pharmaceutical companies funding this trust out of the kindness of their hearts, or is it a way of maximizing shareholder value? If a pharmaceutical company wants to do some research that is risky to people, the company can avoid liability by having the work done by a "charitable" trust. The trust can even collect money from the public, and use it to fund research that will eventually end in a profitable product.

University of Manchester October 14, 2005

Allergy, Vol. 60, No. 11, November 2005

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