Monday, 10 March 2014

'Beijing cough' analysed

Beijing smog
Aspergillus and other microbes are commonly found in outdoor air throughout the world as their spores are extremely small and light, easily blown into the air by a slight disturbance. For the most part the lungs of a healthy person are well adapted to quickly removing these spores before any harm is done, but in some parts of the world the extent of air pollution is so extreme that there is some cause for concern - if not about fungal spores then about high levels of other chemical toxins and irritants.

In many parts of the world we have moved away from the widespread use of coal in the domestic setting to provide heat as some 60 years ago the importance of clean air was realised and enforced by government Act. Other parts of the world have not managed their air quite so effectively, perhaps for lack of available, affordable alternatives or geographical/atmospheric phenomena that mean the air around major cities occasionally become trapped and pollution accumulates.

In Beijing, China there are notorious levels of pollutants in the air on several days each year leading to a number of severe health problems and a characteristic 'Beijing cough'. Pollution is thought to be due to the extremely rapid growth of industry in China and the lack of pollution control.
Researchers have been using 'state of the art' air sampling and analysis techniques to find out what makes up a Beijing smog in terms of microbes that can be breathed in. Remarkably they have found evidence of around 1300 different species, some known to cause health problems not the least of which is Aspergillus fumigatus.

Scientists have found that the numbers of these potentially harmful species rise 2 - 4 fold on the worst smog days, and the next step is to test patients to see if the same organisms are causing increases in hospital admissions during the worst days of smog, or shortly afterwards.The pressure is on the Chinese government to take action!

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