Deadly bagpipe infection is health warning to all wind musicians | New Scientist

Deadly bagpipe infection is health warning to all wind musicians | New Scientist

Musicians beware: clean your instruments. The death of a musician who caught an infection from his bagpipes has highlighted the dangers lurking inside musical instruments.

The man had experienced a dry cough and breathlessness for seven years before he suddenly got worse and was admitted to hospital. There he was diagnosed with hypersensitivity pneumonitis – a chronic inflammation of the lung, normally caused by regular inhalation of foreign bodies from the environment.

This is an occupational health hazard for people in regular contact with birds or hay, but neither of these applied to the musician, leaving his doctors puzzled. But when the man left his bagpipes at home during a long trip to Australia, the doctors found that his symptoms improved, pointing the finger of suspicion at his instrument.

Moist and mouldy
Jenny King at Wythenshawe Hospital in Manchester, UK, and her colleagues took samples from the bagpipes and found various moulds and fungi inside the bag and neck of the instrument, as well as inside the reed protector around the mouthpiece. Despite treatment, the man later died because of scarring to his lungs.

Any wind instrument could potentially carry similar foreign bodies. King says there have been isolated cases of individuals contracting the same condition through playing the saxophone and trombone. “Because wind instruments are so warm and moist, they are an ideal [home] for moulds and fungi,” she says.

Cleaning instruments regularly after use should reduce the risk of microbe growth, King says. “People should be aware that their instruments could harvest these moulds and fungi that could ultimately lead to lung disease.”


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