Occupational lung disease

Lung disease can occur when a person is exposed to high levels of fungal spores and proteins in the course of their work, for example:

  • Via contaminated raw materials (e.g. wood chippings, domestic waste)
  • Industrial production of enzymes for detergents (Green and Beezhold, 2011)
  • Workers in offices affected by damp and ventilation problems
  • Agricultural workers and soldiers may be at risk of implantation mycoses from thorns
  • Construction workers handling large quantities or bird/bat guano without appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) may inhale enough dimorphic fungal spores to cause serious lung infections (e.g. Histoplasmosis)
  • Health or beauty sector workers may be exposed to fungal infections of the skin, hair and nails (Occupational Safety and Health Administration, US Government)

The most common lung diseases linked to fungal exposure at work, include hypersensitivity pneumonitis or extrinsic allergic alveolitis, asthma and community-acquired pneumonia (rare). About 30% of cases of adult-onset asthma are linked to working conditions. Fungal exposure can exacerbate asthma leaving it poorly controlled and requiring hospitalisation.

For more information on occupational hypersensitivity pneumonitis (a Th1-mediated immune response) please refer to the European Academy of Allergy and Clinical Immunology position paper (Quirce et al, 2014) or the guides by NIH and Medscape. For general information about hypersensitivity pneumonitis please see this Nature primer by Costabel et al (2020)

For a review on occupational asthma (Th2 response) please see Kim et al (2016) or Tarlo and Lemiere (2014).

Industry-specific conditions

Disease Fungus Mechanism of exposure
Farmer’s lung Penicillium brevicompactum, Penicillium olivicolor Turning or storing damp hay, opening bales for feeding livestock threshing mouldy grain
Mushroom worker’s lung Agaricus bisporusPleurotus osteatus, Lentinus edodes Spawning sheds
Malt worker’s lung Aspergillus clavatus Handling grain
Suberosis Penicillium glabrum (previously known as P. frequentans) Storage of hot damp cork
Maple bark stripper’s lung Cryptospora corticale Stripping bark from logs
Sequoiosis Aureobasidium pullulans Damp saw mill dust
Wood pulp worker’s lung Alternaria spp. Pulping contaminated wood
Wine grower’s lung Botrytis cinerea Mould contamination
Cheese worker’s lung Penicillium casei/P. roqueforte Cleaning mould off cheese
Tobacco worker’s lung Aspergillus fumigatus Handling contaminated tobacco
Summer-type hypersensitivity pneumonitis Trichosporon cutaneum Damp wood and mats
Peat moss worker’s lung Penicillium citreonigrum Peat moss
Paprika-slicer’s lung Mucor stolonifer Paprika
Humidified lung Rhodotorula Humidifiers
Food processor’s lung Penicillium verrucosum, P. camemberti Food processors
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