New Suspects in Cold Cases
The cases to which we refer may not be found in the case files of your local law enforcement office, but you will find them in the annals of your library's history section--cases of unusual circumstances in which people suffered bodily damage or death. Recent scientific evidence now suggests that familiar culprits were behind a number of these dark moments in history, including accounts of leprosy in the Bible, the Salem witch trials, the Irish potato famine and the curse of the mummies' tombs.
The written history of contaminated housing and its health effects can be traced back thousands of years. Leviticus Chapter 13, verses 1-47 and Chapter 14, verses 33-53 is one of the oldest known references to ill health effects and contaminated housing. Some archaeologists believe that individuals referred to as “Lepers” were actually people with fungal infections 1. The Bible speaks of isolation and purification of people with skin diseases, and it describes mold removal methods. In biblical times, the priest acted in a similar fashion to today’s home inspector. If mildew was found in the homes, the priest would order the contaminated stones to be torn out, the inside walls to be scraped clean, old stones to be replaced with new ones, and the walls to be replastered. The home was then to be monitored for regrowth.
Mold-induced food poisoning called ergotism may have been responsible for the Salem witch trials of 1692. Ergot, a chemical with effects similar to LSD, is produced by the fungus Claviceps purpurea, which was believed to have infected the rye crops of Salem, Massachusetts. It may also have been responsible for the development of hallucinations, seizures, mental disturbances, miscarriages, and even death in small children--all of which could have been mistaken for witchcraft or satanic influences. Mold infected crops causing epidemics and mass hysteria can be dated as far back as the 14th century.
In 1845, Ireland’s population totaled 8 million people, 4 million of which were enormously dependent on potatoes as a food source for humans and animals alike. A period of rain, which lasted from May 1845 until March 1846, provided textbook conditions for the reproduction of the fungus Phyophthora infestans. This fungus grew on the leaves of potato plants causing entire fields to rot within weeks. Farmers were forced to use their uninfected seed potatoes for food and were therefore unable to plant a new crop the next year. Starvation quickly spread throughout Ireland; three and a half million people died from starvation and disease or were forced to leave the country.
The tombs of ancient Egypt are famous for their “curses” that call for death and destruction to those who enter. Many of the explorers who suffered from the alleged “curses” experienced symptoms similar to those caused by exposure to Aspergillus sp., a mold that has been found throughout the Egyptian tombs. Egyptians often buried food, jewels, and other treasures along with their loved ones for use in the afterlife. This food may have provided the perfect nutrient source for Aspergillus sp.and other molds.
The most notorious case of the mummy’s curse occurred with the opening of King Casimir’s tomb in Poland on April 13, 1973. Within a few days after opening the tomb, four of the twelve researchers that had been present died. Shortly thereafter six more died. One of the two remaining survivors was a microbiologist; he suffered equilibrium problems for five years and performed microbiological examinations of the tomb to determine any correlation between his illness and anything found in the tomb. He found traces of three different species of mold on artifacts that had been removed from the tomb: Aspergillus flavus, Penicillium rubrum, and Penicillium rugulosum. These molds produce aflatoxins B1 and B2 and are speculated to have caused the deaths of the ten researchers.
It has also been speculated that these molds may have been responsible for the death of Lord Carnarvon, who died a few months after exploring King Tut’s tomb in 1922. When the mummy of King Tut was examined in 1976, over 370 separate mold colonies containing eighty-nine different species (including Aspergillus sp.) were discovered growing on the mummy. During an analysis of 40 mummies in 1999, a German microbiologist discovered that each of the mummies contained several potentially dangerous types of mold spores. Due to this evidence, scientists now take extra precautions, such as wearing personal protective equipment, when handling mummies and exploring new tombs.
The suspects that were capable of causing these dark moments in history are unfortunately still reeking havoc in indoor environments to this day. For assistance with identifying and meting out justice to the mold intruders in your structure, call Bye Bye Mold (TM) at 1 800 686 1992 .
Today, it is known that the fungal infection, which resembles leprosy (Hansen's Disease), is Tinea corporis, commonly referred to as ringworm. The lesions appear as scaly, annular, erythematous plaques or papules on glabrous skin. (The lesions of leprosy also appear as erythematous annular plaques, with or without scale, but it is caused by the acid-fast bacillus, Mycobacterium leprae. ) Tinea corporis is mainly caused by the fungal genera: Trichophyton, Microsporum and Epidermophyton. Other types of fungus (Fusarium sp., for example) can also cause serious skin infections, qualifying other molds to be the cause of the "leprosy" seen by the untrained eye.
Differential Diagnosis of Annular Lesions ( http://www.aafp.org/afp/20010715/289.html )
Mold in Human History ( http://www.moldreporter.org/vol1no6/moldHist )
The Curse of the Open Tomb ( http://www.catchpenny.org/curse.html )
Howard Carter and the "Curse of the Mummy" ( http://www.unmuseum.org/mummy.htm )
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