Journal Article

Recurrent Exposure to <i>Histoplasma capsulatum</i> in Modern Air-Conditioned Buildings

James P. Luby, Paul M. Southern, Charles E. Haley, Kirby L. Vahle, Robert S. Munford and Robert W. Haley

in Clinical Infectious Diseases

Published on behalf of Infectious Diseases Society of America

Volume 41, issue 2, pages 170-176
Published in print July 2005 | ISSN: 1058-4838
Published online July 2005 | e-ISSN: 1537-6591 | DOI:
Recurrent Exposure to Histoplasma capsulatum in Modern Air-Conditioned Buildings

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Background Between 1989 and 1996, an epidemic of histoplasmosis occurred on a medical school campus. There had been numerous construction projects on the campus that involved previously wooded land and were adjacent to a large bird sanctuary.

Methods We investigated the epidemic with active surveillance to detect cases, a histoplasmin skin-test survey, inspection of the air-filtration systems of the involved buildings, and cultures of soil samples. The investigation also included a simulation of entry into air-intakes of the buildings from spore sources by means of a wind-tunnel analysis of a model of the campus that used inert gas. After control procedures were instituted, sentinel population groups had follow-up with yearly serological tests.

Results From 1989 through 1996, there were 29 cases of histoplasmosis that occurred among school employees. All cases with a defined onset began during periods of ongoing campus construction. Positivity rates for histoplasmin skin testing were higher among on-campus personnel (47%) than among off-campus employee control subjects (28%) (P < .001); the rates were highest in employees who worked on the upper floors of 2 research buildings. The air-handling units on the roofs of these buildings were not designed to exclude Histoplasma spores. The wind-tunnel experiment indicated that spores aerosolized in the bird sanctuary were not taken into campus buildings.

Conclusions The major sources of employee exposure to H. capsulatum spores were the construction sites. Low-level, recurrent exposures occurred over several years inside modern research buildings. This phenomenon, which has not been previously described, may play a role in the epidemiology of spore-transmitted diseases in urban settings.

Journal Article.  4023 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Infectious Diseases ; Immunology ; Public Health and Epidemiology ; Microbiology

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