If You're Growing This in Your Yard, It Could Make You Sick, Scientists Warn
Make sure you're aware of this health risk the next time you're gardening.
Warmer weather is setting in, which means many of us will be venturing into the garden to welcome those springtime blooms. Whether you're fond of growing pansies, daffodils, or tulips, there's great joy to be found in keeping your flowers happy and healthy. But a recently published study found that this year, your garden could pose a serious health risk to you, so you might want to think twice before you dive into your outdoor chores. Read on to find out what could be growing in your garden and making you sick.
Plant experts have issued other warnings already this year.
Earlier this month, scientists and plant experts called for anyone with a Bradford pear tree in their yard to cut it down. These trees are tricky, as they have beautiful white blooms, but they actually endager surrounding wildlife and "choke out other plants," as reported by USA Today.
In addition to being dangerous to wildlife, when these trees cross with other pear varieties, the offspring—called Callery pears—produce thorns and thickets that can puncture the tire of your car. The situation has gotten so out of hand that certain U.S. states have banned the sale and cultivation of Bradford pears entirely. Now, scientists are voicing additional concerns about different garden growths.
Your flower beds could be growing something harmful to your health.
Flower beds are one of the most attractive parts of any garden—and those of us with a green thumb take pride in cultivating them. However, a study published April 25 in Nature Microbiology found that flower beds—as well as soil beds, compost bins, and decaying wood—may be breeding grounds for drug-resistant mold.
Researchers at Imperial College London (ICL) analyzed over 100 samples from patients infected with Aspergillus fumigatus (a type of mold that can cause different diagnoses) across the U.K. between 2005 and 2017. When comparing lung samples with mold samples from patients' surrounding environments, including nearby soil, some were almost identical.
According to reporting by Insider, this study is one of the first to confirm that these infections can be transmitted from "everyday environments."
Drug resistance makes fungal infections more difficult to treat.
In general, our immune systems are able to fight off inhaled mold spores that cause illness, particularly Aspergillus fumigatus. According to the Mayo Clinic, several of these strains are harmless, but some can cause illnesses in the respiratory system. When people do become sick with this kind of infection, called aspergillosis, antifungal drugs known as azoles are the go-to treatment.
But concerns arise when infections cannot effectively be treated due to drug resistance, leading to serious, life-threatening illness in some patients. Amplifying these worries, when researchers tested Aspergillus samples collected from infected patients, almost half (49 percent) were resistant to at least one of the tested antifungal drugs, and 12 percent were resistant to two or more antifungal drugs from both clinical and environmental sources.
Patients with compromised immune systems are particularly at risk.
Due to a rising number of patients with "severe viral respiratory tract infections," researchers are looking to better understand how and why this resistance is occurring—and agricultural fungicides appear to be the root of the problem. Johanna Rhodes, the study's senior author and genomic epidemiology fellow at ICL, told Insider that a "hefty dose of fungicide" is generally enough to kill Aspergillus, but drug resistance occurs due to "gradual exposure in the environment."
"It's like building up a tan gradually," Rhodes said. "If it's exposed a little bit at a time, it will develop the resistance slowly."
The fungi identified in the study had become resistant prior to infecting human lungs, researchers found, not during treatment in hospital settings. This creates a major issue for immunocompromised patients—and can even be deadly, Insider reported.
To protect yourself from exposure to this mold, there are steps that you can take.
Researchers are working to confront this issue and stressed the need to better understand "environmental drivers and the genetic basis of fungal drug resistance." As Rhodes told Insider, drug-resistant Aspergillus is present "virtually everywhere," due to the fact that mold spores can travel in the air. In doing so, spores can also spread their genetic information to other mold colonies that have never had to confront azoles.
This information may seem disheartening, but you can be proactive about protecting yourself, Rhodes said. Leaving windows open can help prevent buildup in the home, she told Insider, and when gardening or handling compost, it is also helpful to don one of those trusty N95 masks.