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Published: September 11, 2018, Updated:

Fusarium

Fusarium is a large and economically important genus of fungi. It includes numerous species and can be found worldwide. While most of its species are harmless saprobes that colonize the soil, some are toxicogenic plant pathogens that can cause significant damage to agricultural yields. Also, several species can cause a wide variety of infections in humans.

You wouldn’t want to get any Fusarium species in your home. Fusarium is an incredibly fast growing mold, and not only can it look unsightly, it can also cause severe structural damage.

Fusarium species

There is still no definitive answer as to how many species are included in the Fusarium genus. In fact, the taxonomy of the Fusarium genus has changed many times throughout history. The genus was first described in 1809 and more than 1000 species were attributed to it over the next 100 years. However, during the 20th century many researchers sought to organize the genus into sections, subgenera, species and varieties. According to various taxonomic systems, the genus had anywhere from 9 to 90 species. Today, over 70 species are recognized, with DNA sequencing techniques suggesting the true number of Fusarium species is over 300 [1].

They grow in soil and on plants and grains. Because they require wet conditions, you’ll often find Fusarium growing in indoor humidifiers. The texture of its colonies varies from flat to wooly or cottony and its colour ranges from white, tan and salmon to cinnamon, yellow, red-violet, pink or purple.

The bulk of Fusarium species are not found in the home. For example, one of the most prevalent species in this country is Fusarium graminearum, which impacts wheat, barley and maize. It causes a variety of diseases, most notably Fusarium head blight, which has been known to cause billions of dollars of agricultural losses [2].

Of course, not all Fusarium is bad. If you are a vegetarian or vegan, then you have likely eaten Fusarium at some point. Fusarium venenatum, or Quorn as it is more commonly marketed as (a much more palatable name), is an often included meat substitute in many different foods.

Like all molds, Fusarium thrives in damp areas. If you do not keep humidity levels in check, the prevalence of Fusarium means that it is going to pop up in your home sooner rather than later.

Where can Fusarium mold be found?

If there is a damp spot in your home Fusarium molds are going to love it. Although most commonly found outside, namely on crops and other plants, it can find its way into the home on occasion.

Fusarium molds multiply by dispersing microscopic spores which travel through the air with ease. Since most of us are never going to be that far from a Fusarium mold growth, it is easy for the spores to latch onto a suitable surface and start to develop into a mold growth.

If that wasn’t scary enough, Fusarium mold can also grow on or in humans, causing diseases of varying severity. Fusarium infections range from superficial or locally invasive infections, which are readily treated with antifungal medicine, to disseminated infections which can potentially be deadly.

What is Fusarium disease?

Let’s start with the impact of Fusarium on plants and crops because it is a very common problem in the United States and Canada. It causes millions of dollars in damage each and every year.

A wide range of plant diseases is associated with Fusarium, including crown rot, head blight and scab. Although best known for occurring on wheat and maize, Fusarium species can grow on all small grain crops, as well as other crops such as asparagus, figs, legumes, soybean, spice plants and nuts. It can affect roots, fruits, seeds or leaves. In fact, Fusarium molds can be found growing on practically any plant, often as symptomless endophytes.

Fusarium oxysporum is one species that can be particularly tricky to spot. Although found in soil all over the world and usually harmless, pathogenic strains can still have devastating impact on agriculture. This is because when they infect the plants, it tends to be later in the season. This means that it is too late to replant, so if there is an infection, the entire yield is destroyed. In fact, a strain of F. oxysporum almost decimated the commercial banana industry in the 1960s [3].

A wide range of plant diseases are associated with Fusarium and many of them cause the infected plants to wilt. This is because the infection blocks the vessels in the plant’s root system, preventing the plant from transporting water and nutrients. The mold will spread up the plant, taking up every bit of water that it can, which effectively dehydrates the plant, killing it. Most farmers will not spot the disease until their plants have turned yellow.

However, farmers aren’t the only ones affected by Fusarium related plant diseases. They take so many precautions against it that the problem is fairly minimal. Considering that Fusarium can live on practically any plant, gardens are at risk as well. Your entire garden could be devastated by a bad Fusarium infection, so it is best to keep an eye out for infected plants and to deal with them quickly if you notice any symptoms.

How does Fusarium mold impact humans?

Although they are ubiquitous in our surroundings, Fusarium molds will rarely impact the health of most people. However, sensitive individuals may develop serious health symptoms when exposed to this mold.

Fusarium is a known allergen. Inhalation of its spores can cause sinusitis even in immunocompetent individuals [4]. Remember that Quorn mentioned earlier? There are some people who can never eat it as their reaction to F. venenatum could be deadly for them. Symptoms of Fusarium allergy are similar to those of other allergies.

Furthermore, a wide variety of diseases have been reported in connection to Fusarium, even in healthy, immunocompetent individuals. These include localized infections of the skin and nails (onychomycosis) and eye infections (keratomycosis), which commonly affect contact lens wearers. More seriously, Fusarium infection can result in sinusitis, pneumonia, thrombophlebitis, endophtalmitis, septic arthritis and osteomyelitis [5].

Fusarium infection can be deadly to people with weak immune systems, such as cancer patients, people suffering from HIV/AIDS or people that have undergone organ transplantation. The lack of an immune response means the infection is easily disseminated and quickly reaches vital organs. In fact, the 90-day mortality rate of cancer patients diagnosed with fusariosis is near 80% [6].

Another way Fusarium species can affect human health is through the mycotoxins that they produce. The most notable mycotoxins produced by species of Fusarium are the trichothecenes and the fumonisins. Fumonisins cause fatal livestock diseases and are considered potentially carcinogenic mycotoxins for humans, while trichothecenes are potent inhibitors of protein synthesis. Food contaminated with Fusarium mycotoxins has caused hundreds of disease outbreaks throughout history, in various parts of the world [1].

If you suspect that you are experiencing health issues triggered by mold in your home, you should talk to your doctor as soon as possible. A lot of the damage caused by the mold occurs due to prolonged exposure, so the quicker the treatment, the better. In case of skin and nail infections, there are several prescription products on the market that can have a positive effect. Many of them are creams which can be applied directly to the affected area.

How to know if you have Fusarium mold in your home?

It can be tricky to tell. In most cases, Fusarium appears as a black mold. However, various types of mold appear black in colour, many of them more dangerous than Fusarium. The only way to truly identify the mold in question is to call a professional mold remediation service.

Even though Fusarium mold is not necessarily a danger to yourself, it will always be dangerous to your property. If you spot any type of mold in your home, getting rid of it should be a priority.

Cleaning it off the walls is not going to be enough. All it takes is a few spores left behind and you will be right back where you started. Often there are underlying issues that must be dealt with in order to make the area unsuitable for mold development. Delaying the treatment is a bad choice, as this fast-growing mold can quickly spread through your property, causing severe damage.

As with most issues, it is better if you ‘nip it in the bud’ long before it actually becomes a problem. Any Fusarium growth on your property can easily be removed by a mold removal expert. With over 15 years of experience, Mold Busters have a proven track record in the remediation business. Our technicians use the latest in mold remediation technology to inspect and remove mold and can advise you on the steps you need to take in order to never share your home with mold again. Contact us today to find out more.

References

  1. Munkvold GP (2017). Fusarium Species and Their Associated Mycotoxins. Methods Mol Biol. 1542:51-106.
  2. McMullen M, Jones R, Gallenberg D (1997). Scab of Wheat and Barley: A Re-emerging Disease of Devastating Impact. Plant Dis. 81(12):1340-1348.
  3. Ploetz RC (1990). Fusarium Wilt of Banana. APS Press, St. Paul, Minnesota.
  4. Wickern GM (1993). Fusarium allergic fungal sinusitis. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 92(4):624-5.
  5. Nucci M, Anaissie E (2007). Fusarium infections in immunocompromised patients. Clin Microbiol Rev. 20(4):695–704.
  6. Nucci M, Anaissie EJ, Queiroz-Telles F, Martins CA, Trabasso P, Solza C, Mangini C, Simões BP, Colombo AL, Vaz J, Levy CE, Costa S, Moreira VA, Oliveira JS, Paraguay N, Duboc G, Voltarelli JC, Maiolino A, Pasquini R, Souza CA (2003). Outcome predictors of 84 patients with hematologic malignancies and Fusarium infection. Cancer. 98(2):315-9.