A new threat may be on the horizon for the cleaning industry, one that’s actually been lurking in the shadows for hundreds of years: fungi.
Fungi are everywhere — in the soil, water, and air. You can even find them in your home and in your body. Most of the time, they’re harmless, but some types of fungi are harmful to humans, plants, and animals.
These fungi can cause allergy issues and breathing problems, different types of infections, and can even be lethal. More than 1.5 million people die from fungal infections annually across the globe. And dangerous fungi are becoming more common.
They’re an even bigger threat to people with compromised immune systems or pre-existing respiratory conditions. If you need cleaning services that will keep your space healthy, clean, and free of dangerous fungi, contact 360Clean today to request a free, no-obligation quote for services.
Some fungi have the job of breaking down organic material and recycling natural matter into nutrients. These beneficial fungi are called decomposers, and they cycle nutrients, enabling nitrogen and phosphorus mobilization.
Fungi also can control bacteria and insect pests while releasing oxygen, phosphorus, and carbon into the soil. They are essential for the health and growth of most types of vegetation. In humans, they are key in controlling the growth rates of gut bacteria.
Unfortunately, not all fungi are beneficial. Other types can cause many problems, ranging from mild conditions, like dandruff and athlete’s foot, to more serious complications, like infection and severe illness.
The Rise in Dangerous Types of Fungi
There are three key reasons why various types of fungi are becoming increasingly common:
- Climate Change: The world is becoming warmer and wetter as the general climate changes
- Anti-Fungal Medications: People are using more anti-fungal medications, causing the fungi to adapt and resist the medications
- Urbanization: The world is becoming more urbanized and more crowded, increasing the likelihood of people being exposed to fungi
The World Health Organization released a list of dangerous types of fungi in 2022 for the first time, along with an explanation for its concern, calling the fungi on its list a major threat to public health.
Only four types of medications are available to combat fungal infections in humans, and some new fungi are resistant to them. And the medical community is largely unable to correctly diagnose infections of these types of fungi, exacerbating the problem.
Specialized methods and equipment in a laboratory setting are needed to confirm the presence of these fungi. However, those methods and pieces of equipment are not widely available in many areas of the world.
Who Is at Risk for Fungal Infections?
It’s important to understand that most healthy people are not normally at high risk for fungal infections. Fungi are everywhere in the environment and easily spread. People who are most at risk for illness from fungal infections include those who:
- Have weak or compromised immune systems
- Live in very humid environments
- Have diabetes
- Take antibiotics often
- Work in fields that expose them to fungi, such as healthcare workers, construction professionals, and farmers
What’s the correlation between antibiotics and fungal infections? Bacteria and fungi keep each other in control in various environments. For example, some types of fungi in the human body keep harmful gut bacteria at low levels. And some bacteria do the same to harmful fungi.
However, when people take antibiotics, the medication can kill beneficial bacteria in the body along with harmful bacteria. When the beneficial bacteria are kept at very low levels, there aren’t enough to control the fungi levels, which can increase uncontrollably, resulting in an infection and illness.
New Fungi and the Cleaning Services Industry
The rising fungi threat is beginning to cause many sectors and industries across the globe to reconsider the protocols and procedures they’ve had in place for infection control for years. This is especially true for the commercial cleaning services industry.
The types of fungi that are making the most impact can affect all types of facilities. However, those that are most susceptible to these new types of fungi include:
- Long-term care facilities
- Physical rehabilitation centers
- Nursing homes
- Assisted living facilities
- Other types of medical care facilities
Professional cleaning companies in charge of maintaining these facilities find the task more challenging, partly due to several key threats the facilities can present.
All environments have some degree of mold present in the air. However, when moist materials accumulate, and mold spores land on them, the mold can grow out of control and become dangerous if it involves certain types of mold.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health states that mold is a fungus that thrives on various moist surfaces. Therefore, it can cause illnesses to spread in all kinds of facilities, businesses, and buildings.
One type that many people are familiar with is Stachybotrys chartarum (S chartarum). This is more commonly called “black mold,” a greenish-black fungus that grows on materials like paper, gypsum board, and fiberboard.
Buildings that have had water damage are often plagued by this type of fungus, which is extremely hazardous due to the mycotoxins it produces. Cleaning companies must always remain vigilant and clean properly and thoroughly, especially in healthcare settings, to limit the spread of all types of mold.
Another type of fungus posing a growing challenge to facilities, specifically healthcare facilities, is one called Candida auris (C. auris). This particular fungus is a highly contagious type of yeast that lingers on all types of surfaces, including medical equipment.
- auris is one of the most dangerous types of fungi because it’s difficult to detect and highly contagious. It spreads easily from person to person, as well as from surface to person, and is extremely challenging to treat.
It can cause various serious infections in people, such as ear, skin, and lung infections. Classified as a superbug, C. auris is resistant to all classes of medications. And infections from C. auris can be fatal; according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 30-60% of people who become ill due to Candida auris succumb to their illness.
Mucormycosis is an illness caused by the fungus mucormycetes, also known as black fungus. Even though people are exposed to mucormycetes daily, mucormycosis caused a serious outbreak of deadly infections in India in 2021.
The illness is fatal if not treated quickly. Even though the infection was rarely seen in India before 2021, it was 85 times more common during the outbreak than in other countries.
More than half of those who fall victim to mucormycosis succumb to it. The illness causes the skin and a person’s bones to turn black and rot. Many victims who recover from the illness suffer from vision loss and permanent facial disfigurement.
Ever since 2018, Lincoln County, Tennessee, residents have been battling another type of black mold, nicknamed the “whisky fungus.”
Baudoinia compniacensis is a black mold that is a byproduct of the Jack Daniel’s whiskey production company in the area, covering everything from houses to street signs to vehicles and children’s playground equipment.
This whisky fungus is black in color and is produced by the ethanol vapor the barrel houses of the company produce. Residents power wash their homes, cars, and properties to no avail, and they have filed a lawsuit because of the ordeal and are concerned about the air quality in the area.
What You Can Do
The increase in all types of fungal infections and illnesses is a major concern for cleaning professionals. Fungi can grow on numerous surfaces like furniture, walls, tabletops, and almost anywhere else. If these surfaces and areas are not properly disinfected and cleaned, the fungi can multiply quickly and spread to people.
Because no indoor area is completely free of mold and fungi are almost everywhere, avoiding exposure is almost impossible. However, there are several things cleaning professionals and people, in general, can do to lower the risk of illness and fungal infections, such as:
- Avoid using carpeting and window curtains in rooms with high moisture levels
- Promptly have leaky pipes and roofs repaired
- Keep humidity levels between 30% and 50%
- Ensure good ventilation in areas with high humidity levels, like laundry rooms, kitchens, and bathrooms
When a surface or item is found to have fungus on it, it must be thoroughly and properly cleaned right away. If it cannot be cleaned, it must be removed and replaced.
Keeping surfaces clean by using a diluted bleach solution or cleaners that are EPA-approved for fungi is critical to controlling the spread of these potentially dangerous fungi.
Bleach is an effective fungi killer, but many people don’t want to use it because of its harsh composition and effect on the skin, eyes, and lungs. When used as a solution of one cup of bleach to one gallon of water, it can effectively kill mold but must be used in a well-ventilated area.
Countries across the globe must devote more resources to improving their ability and capacity to diagnose and treat fungal infections. More money must be allotted for research, surveillance, diagnosis, and of course, prevention and treatment.
What an Increase in Fungal Infections Means for Cleaning Professionals
The best commercial cleaning professionals are already aware of the growing problem of increasing fungi infections and illnesses. They are taking steps to provide customers with exceptional services aimed at disinfection.
Being ready to deal with the increasing number of infections from fungi means having the right cleaning equipment, training, and products.
It also means that these professionals must be able to identify fungi and take steps for remediation. If they are unable to comprehensively eradicate the presence of a fungus-like mold, professional mold remediation teams must be called in.
The CDC also recommends diligent standard contact precautions, thorough disinfection with cleanings, and correct handwashing techniques. In healthcare facilities, where fungi like C. auris are much more prevalent and can spread from patient to patient, three levels of cleaning take place to prevent the spread of germs:
- Low-level disinfection
- High-level disinfection
While areas like waiting rooms might routinely undergo low-level disinfection, surgical rooms should receive sterilization, and intensive care units require high-level disinfection. Patient care equipment should always be sterilized in between uses if it’s not disposable.
Keep Your Facility Healthy and Clean with 360Clean
Whether you own an industrial building or a healthcare facility, the threat of fungi cannot be dismissed. Preparing and taking preventive action is the best way to keep serious fungal infections at bay.
At 360Clean, our professionals are trained to identify and prevent fungi from taking over your property. As an innovative janitorial services industry leader, we stay current on the latest cleaning techniques and technology. Contact us today for a free quote on our commercial cleaning services.