Stachybotrys: Was it the Cause of Death of Infants in Cleveland, Ohio, USA?

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Stachybotrys species

When black mold is found growing in houses or commercial buildings, people panic.

Black mold is thought by the general public to be Stachybotrys chartarum or simply the ‘bad mold’. The truth is there are several molds that appear black and most of them are relatively harmless. Stachybotrys chartarum is a cellulose-degrading fungus (mold) commonly found in soil and on materials rich in cellulose such as hay, straw, cereal grains, plant debris, wood pulp, paper, and cotton.

Although it mainly survives as a saprophyte (i.e., by feeding on dead material), this type of mold has also been found to cause lesions on the roots of soybean plants. Presence of this mold in a building is an indication of an existing or previous water problem.

Black mold pictures: Stachybotrys

Black mold- Stachybotrys

Stachybotrys: Was it the Cause of Death of Infants in Cleveland, Ohio, USA?

Stachybotrys chartarum is one of the most feared indoor molds since the 1993-1994 outbreak of pulmonary hemorrhage in infants in Cleveland, Ohio, USA. Initial reports associated the outbreak with this mold, a fact that has remained controversial to date.

Some people now believe Stachybotrys chartarum was not solely the cause of these deaths. However, as early as 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.

In 1938, Russian scientists 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.

Stachybotrys chartarum is known to produce a variety of mycotoxins. There is significant variation among isolates of Stachybotrys chartarum in the production of mycotoxins and other metabolites. Scientists are still studying Stachybotrys chartarum with the aim of understanding what the mold is comprised of.

Recent studies have indicated that the “species” previously believed to be S. chartarum was comprised of at least three strains. One of these strains was found not only to have a distinct secondary metabolite profile but also genetically differed from the other two strains and was thus renamed Stachybotrys chlorohalonata. The other two strains are still known as Stachybotrys chartarum. They differ in the amount and type of metabolites that they produce.

The variability of strains of S. chartarum in the production of mycotoxins has probably contributed to lack of consensus on the health effects of S. chartarum in indoor environments.

Contact MBL today if you have questions or require a black mold testing service.

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Dr Jackson Kung'u
Dr. Jackson Kung’u is a Microbiologist who has specialized in the field of mycology (the study of moulds and yeasts). He is a member of the Mycological Society of America. He graduated from the University of Kent at Canterbury, UK, with a Masters degree in Fungal Technology and a PhD in Microbiology. He has published several research papers in international scientific journals. Jackson has analyzed thousands of mould samples from across Canada. He also regularly teaches a course on how to recognize mould, perform effective sampling and interpret laboratory results. Jackson provides how-to advice on mould and bacteria issues. Get more information about indoor mould and bacteria at
Dr Jackson Kung'u

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