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Cladosporium: Cladosporium spores are commonly found on dead plants, food, textiles and a variety of other surfaces. This genus compromises perhaps the most common isolates in both the indoor and outdoor environment. Some species produce a mycotoxin, epicladosporic acid that acts in an immunosuppressive manner. Illnesses caused by this genus can include phaeohyphomycosis, chromoblastomycosis, hay fever and common allergies.

Ascospores: Ascospores are ubiquitous in nature and are commonly found in the outdoor environment. They are identified on tape lifts and non-viable analysis by the fact that they have no attachments and are sometimes enclosed in sheaths with or without sacs. Some fungi that belong to the ascomycete familiy are the sexual forms of Penicillium/Aspergillus, Chaetomium and Pleospora. This group contains possible allergens, mycotoxin producers and opportunistic human pathogens.

Basidiospores: Basidiospores are released from the basidium of a fungus to become spores. They usually are agents of wood rot and have the potential to produce a variety of toxins. Members of this family produce type I and III fungal hypersensitivity reactions.

Smuts, Periconia, Myxomycetes: Smuts and Myxomycetes are parasitic plant pathogens and can produce type I fungal hypersensitivity reactions. There are occasions where Periconia has been implicated in mycotic keratitis, but this is a rare event. All three are typically grouped together due to their association with plants, the outdoors and because they share similar microscopic morphology.

Penicillium/Aspergillus: Penicillium spores are found both in the outdoor and indoor environment. These spores are easily aerosolized and can cause a variety of symptoms including allergic reactions, keratitis, hypersensitivities and pnuemonitis. Most are of these symptoms occur if the individual is immunocompromised in some way (HIV, cancer, etc). Penicillium species also produce a wide variety of mycotoxins including but not limited to ochratoxin, patulin, and citrinin.

Aspergillus species can produce a variety of symptoms and disease for an affected individual. There are over 175 different Aspergillus species and they can produce type I and III fungal hypersensitivities. There have been over 15 different species of Aspergillus implicated in either producing mycotoxins or other deleterious health effects. Both Penicillium and Aspergillus spores share similar morphology on non-viable analysis and therefore are lumped together into the same group. Only through the visualization of reproductive structures can the genera be distinguished.

Also included in this group are the spores of the genera Trichoderma, Acremonium, Verticillium and Paecilomyces. Small, round spores of this group lack the necessary distinguishing characteristics when seen on non-viable examination. Therefore, all of the above are included in the category of Penicillium/Aspergillus group spores.

Alternaria: This genus compromises a large number of saprobic or plant pathogens. In humans, it is recognized to cause type I and type III allergic responses. Because of the large size of the spores, it can be deposited in the nose, mouth and upper respiratory tract. It has been known to cause Bakers asthma, farmers lung, and hay fever. Certain species of Alternaria have the capability to produce tenuazonic acid and altertoxin. There are approximately 40-50 different species of Alternaria. It is one of the more common fungi found in nature. It is easily identified on tape lifts and non-viable analysis by producing erect conidiophores that are brown and multi-celled.

Drechslera/Bipolaris group: These groups of fungi constitute the most commonly reported causes of allergic fungal sinusitis. They produce type I fungal hypersensitivity in humans. In the wild, they are plant parasites and are recovered from this type of material. Bipolaris sp. has been reported to produce sterigmatocystin, a mycotoxin. Because of the microscopic similarities between the two genuses, they are grouped together on both viable and non-viable analysis.

Colorless: These spores are round,smooth and colorless. There are no distinguishing features to allow complete identification.

Arthrinium: This fungus is a saprobe and is found on plant material. There is no known mycotoxin production and only one of approximately twenty species of Arthrinium is a potential allergen.

Curvularia: Curvularia species is found on plant material and is considered a saprobe. It has been reported to cause type I hypersensitivity and a cause of allergic fungal sinusitis.

Stachybotrys: Stachybotrys prefers to grow on wet media, preferably containing cellulose. It proliferates in the indoor environment, growing on wallpaper, gypsum board, and textiles. It has worldwide distribution and has been reported to cause dermatitis, cough, rhinitis, headache, although no definitive reports of human infections have been verified. It has the ability to cause type I hypersensitivity and some species produce the following mycotoxins: satratoxin, verrucarins and roridins.


Unknown: This group consists primarily of dark, brown spores. There are no distinguishing features to allow complete identification.

Hyphal elements: Hyphal elements are filamentous structures of a fungus.

Torula herbarum: Torula is a saprophyte and is reported to produce type I fungal hypersensitivity. It is typically found in wood containing materials.

Geotrichum: Geotrichum species is commonly found in dairy products and the soil. It causes geotrichosis, which can produce lesions in the mouth, intestines and other areas. Typically, these infections only occur in the immunocompromised host. Geotrichum species also has the potential to be an allergen.

Epicoccum: Epicoccum is a saprophyte and considered a weakly parasitic secondary invader of plants, moldy paper and textiles. Epicoccum is usually isolated with either Cladosporium species or Aureobasidium species. It produces flavipin and epicorazine A&B, which are mycotoxins. It also has the potential to produce type I fungal hypersensitivity reactions.

Pithomyces: Pithomyces is commonly found on grass and decaying plant material. It has the potential to produce the mycotoxin, sporidesmin.

Chaetomium: This genus is often found on materials containing cellulose, or other wet materials. It is also considered part of the ascomycte group because its spores are released from a sac called an ascus. Chaetomium can produce type I fungal hypersensitivity and has caused onychomycosis (nail infections). Chaetomium species can also produce mycotoxins, one of which being chaetomin.

Ulocladium: Ulocladium species is reported to be a major allergen. It can be found on many types of materials, but mostly found on decaying materials. Rarely can it cause sub cutaneous infections in humans. It has a high water requirement and its ability to produce mycotoxins is not fully understood.

Rusts: Rusts are serious plant pathogens associated with cereal crops. These smut telospores can serve as potential allergens.

Clear brown: These spores are usually seen as round clear, brown spores. There are no distinguishing features to allow complete identification.

Algae: Algae are microscopic plants that are found in fresh water, marine water and in damp environments. The increases presence of algae would indicate a wet environment.

Potential Mycotoxin Production:

Mycotoxins refer to the secondary metabolites of fungi that in small quantities can induce symptoms in mammals. A variety of fungi such as Aspergillus, Penicillium, and Stachybotrys species produce these low molecular weight, non volatile compounds. Many factors can be attributed to mycotoxin production such as the temperature in the environment, pH and nature of the substrate in which the fungi is contained. Mycotoxins can have deleterious effects on the human because once inhaled, they travel to the lung and interfere with particle clearance by macrophage, which in turn interferes with the immunological response of that individual.


Most fungi have the potential to cause allergy in individuals. Mammals react to the metabolites of the fungi or to the proteins found on the fungiís spores or hyphal elements. Each individualís tolerance to an allergen differs due to unique immune systems. Symptoms of allergic reaction to mold would be what some call "sick building syndrome", characterized by a variety of symptoms including heachache, cough, respiratory problems and malaise.


As fungi grow, they have the potential to produce volatile organic compounds with a variety of odors. VOCís can produce an unpleasant odor, mushroom odor, earthy like odors, musty odors, and sweet odors to name a few. It is important to note that VOCís can irritate mucosal membranes and cause long and short-term side effects.

Fungal Hypersensitivity:

There are four classes of hypersensitivity reactions that can occur if one is exposed to an antigen. Fungal parts and proteins are considered antigens to the human immune system and typically our bodies will respond with an immune reaction. Below is a table outlining the four types of hypersensitivity reactions:

Type of Hypersensitivity Reaction


Immunological Response

Time to onset


I Anaphylaxis Mast cells/basophils, IgE Minutes Hay fever, asthma, eczema
II Cytotoxic Complement Hours-Days Transfusion reactions
III Immune-Complex IgG, antigen-antibody complexes Hours-Days Hypersensitivity pneumonitis, allergic alveolitis
IV Cell Mediated T lymphocytes Days Allergic contact dermatitis



Water Activity:

Water activity is a measurement of the unbound water that is available for the amplification of mold. Water is a factor needed by fungi to grow and by measuring water activity, one is able to discern how much water is available for fungal growth.

Agricultural Related Spore:

Many fungi use plants and decaying plant material (saprobes) and substrates for growth. This is one of the many ways that fungi are able to enter indoor environments and proliferate. Other fungi not only live off plants, but they are parasites of living plants. These fungi represent over 70% of major crop disease and cost billions to farmers.

Documented Health Effects:

Health effects caused by fungi include headaches, chills, nosebleeds, fatigue and invasive fungal growth. Many different types of fungi can cause these symptoms, including many more that are not listed. Members of the Aspergillus family have been documented to cause fungus balls, pneumonia and other diseases of human. Stachybotrys species are known to produce a powerful mycotoxin, however, thorough studies have not been done to prove this fungus a cause of human disease. Between human colonization and mycotoxin production, many different molds have the potential to cause health effects in mammals.

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