The Menace of Mold

Iris Harden knew that something in her Harlem, Georgia house was making her sick. "I wasn’t educated. I didn’t know it was mold," she says. "All I knew was that something in that house was doing it to me." She had a good idea of the cause after environmental testing found elevated levels of mold spores in her kitchen and bedroom. Her discomfort, headaches and a burning sensation around her eyes became so acute that she had to move out of the house.

Georgia resident Iris Harden suffered from serious infection and illness due to mold.© IRIS HARDEN

Harden contacted Dr. Aristo Vojdani of Immunosciences Lab in Beverly Hills, California, who agreed to perform blood and DNA tests free of charge. What he found stunned him: two types of mold, aspergillus and stachybotrys, were actually in Harden’s blood. "That was really the alarm," Vojdani says. "I’ve done 20,000 to 30,000 tests, and her results are in the top one percent." Vojdani suspects that airborne mycotoxins, released by the mold in Harden’s walls and floor, entered her lungs and diffused into her bloodstream. A previous medical procedure had compromised Harden’s immune system, making her more susceptible to a systemic mold infection.

During a 2003 symposium, Dr. William Croft, a forensic toxicologist who has also examined Harden, delivered a paper that outlined three stages of mycotoxin poisoning. Phase one lasts for only a few days. The mold affects the nervous, respiratory and immune systems, causing headaches, fatigue, and a burning sensation in the eyes and ears. During the second phase, the infected person initially feels less discomfort. However, as the infection spreads throughout the body, visible hemorrhages appear on the skin, and the person may become depressed or have trouble with short-term memory. This phase can last anywhere from a few weeks to a few years, depending on the level of exposure. The third phase arrives suddenly in the form of a major organ failure, usually the brain, heart or lungs. In Dr. Croft’s opinion, Harden was teetering on the edge of the second phase. "Without treatment of the affected systems, at this stage in the disease, the prognosis is poor, with therapy guarded," he wrote of Harden.

Dr. Croft’s findings are controversial. Some researchers claim that the worst mold can do is exacerbate allergies, while others remain undecided. Dr. Doug Rice of Colorado State University is among the latter. "I’ve seen people profoundly affected by molds," he says. "Some people are highly affected, some are not," he says. "It is, unfortunately, a very open issue—there’s such a dichotomy of belief out there." He says that mold most seriously affects people with weakened immune systems, such as Harden.

Meanwhile, the treatment Harden is receiving in North Carolina has succeeded in removing one of the molds from her blood.

—Paul W. Gleason