Monday, 11 March 2013

Bagpipers - Take Care to Clean Your Pipes!

Keep your pipes clean
The Scotman newspaper describes a case where a bagpipe player fell ill with respiratory difficulties that failed to respond to antibiotic therapy. He was admitted to hospital for more intensive antibiotic treatment but continued to deteriorate until his bagpipes were tested for clues as to what the problem might be.

Large quantities of moulds were found in the bag of his pipes and no doubt antifungal drugs were quickly brought into action and his infection gradually improved, though it took a month before he could leave hospital.

Occupational exposures such as this can be extremely dangerous. We have seen reported gardeners (1, 2) and a deep sea diver who have died after inhaling large quantities of spores. In the latter case the diver failed to clean his plastic buoyancy bag thoroughly and subsequently inhaled the air contained within the bag.  He used to inflate the bag by mouth so of course he introduced moisture & saliva into the bag and this was enough to promote lush mould growth. Once this had happened the next gulp of air he took formt he mouldy bag would have been full of mould spores. Sadly the diver ultimately succumbed to the consequences of his infection.

There are clear similarities between the diver and the bagpipe player. Both have inhaled from a mouldy bag that must have stored many millions of spores. The bagpipe player was lucky to survive the infection and may well not have done if his doctors had not been so effective in identifying a rare type of infection.

This is a clear warning to anyone who finds themselves breathing in or blowing into plastic bags that have been filled with air via mouth or any other non-sterile source, but in particular bagpipe players should take great care to ensure that their pipes are well cleaned after use every time, especially if they use the non-traditional instruments that use a plastic bag rather than natural alternatives - they are not low maintenance!

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