Histoplasmosis & How to Protect Employees at Work Place?
If you’re experiencing a lot of shortness of breath, you may be familiar with exercise-induced or asthma-induced shortness of breath. If so, this post is not for you. However, if your shortness of breath is new and unexplained (and it’s not from exercise), read on: This could be a sign that your lungs are infected with a fungal infection known as histoplasmosis.
What is histoplasmosis?
Histoplasmosis is a disease caused by inhaling spores of the fungus histoplasma. Histoplasmin produces a small, round, double-stranded DNA molecule known as an endospore. These can remain dormant in the soil for years and are most active during warm weather (spring through fall). Spores are spread by birds who have eaten infected insects.
Histoplasmin is transmitted to humans either directly or indirectly through contaminated soil, food or water sources. Direct contact with infected animals may also result in transmission of histoplasmin into the lungs.
What are the symptoms?
The symptoms of histoplasmosis vary from person to person. Mild symptoms may include:
- fatigue and muscle aches (feeling tired)
If you have severe symptoms, you may also experience these signs and symptoms:
- shortness of breath or difficulty breathing that does not improve with rest; or
- unusual lumps under the skin (lumps caused by infection).
How can workers be exposed to histoplasmosis?
Exposure to histoplasma can occur in the workplace when:
- Workers are exposed to bird or bat droppings that contain the spores of histoplasma. These droppings can be found in attics, rafters, crevices and cracks. The dried feces may be found on equipment and in work areas where birds or bats roosted previously.
- Workers disturb soil that contains spore-producing fungi during construction or demolition projects.
How does histoplasmosis affect health?
Histoplasmosis is a very serious disease. People with weakened immune systems, such as those with AIDS, cancer or other conditions that compromise the immune system are at risk of developing the disease. In fact, people with suppressed immune systems should not work in areas where histoplasmosis is a risk.
People who may be exposed to histoplasmosis include construction and demolition workers and their crews who tear down old buildings; Mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction workers, landscapers who have contact with soil around decaying trees; museum curators and archeologists who handle ancient artifacts; animal caretakers at zoos and circuses; farmers working on land used for pastures or growing crops; firefighters and law enforcement officers responding to emergency situations where bats are found (such as caves); or anyone else whose job involves disturbing bat guano (feces).
What Employers and workers should do to prevent histoplasmosis in the workplace.
As an employer, you should ensure that your workers are provided with information about the disease and how they can reduce their risk of infection.
In addition, employers can help keep workers safe during high-risk activities by providing personal protective equipment (PPE) and associated training to workers.
Reduce or eliminate dust. Spray water or use other dust suppression techniques.
Post health risk warnings in areas known or suspected to be contaminated with Histoplasma.
Train workers so they understand the potential risks and how to protect themselves.
Workers should try to eliminate or reduce dust and can use PPE to protect themselves from exposures to Histoplasma. Recommended PPE include NIOSH approved respirator, gloves, coverall with hood, eye protection. Disposable protective clothing and shoe coverings can help prevent spreading the fungus to other places like a worker’s car or home. Workers should be guided by supervisors about selecting the appropriate PPE.
In conclusion, it is important for employees and employers to understand the risks of histoplasmosis. Workers who are exposed to bird or bat droppings should be protected with dust masks and gloves. Employers should also educate their employees on how to handle these situations in order to prevent them from getting sick at work.