The condition called St. Anthony’s Fire, which killed thousands of people during the Middle Ages and in the ancient world, is caused by ergotism, or the eating of bread made with grain contaminated with the ergot fungus. St. Anthony’s Fire is a gruesome disease characterized by rotting flesh, hallucinations, convulsions, and dry gangrene. People once believed that by making supplications and pilgrimages to St. Anthony and his shrine, a cure could be granted. Interestingly enough, these actions often worked because the pilgrims, traveling from place to place, would cease ingestion of the contaminated bread.
The fungus Phytophthora infestans caused the Irish potato famine of the 1840s. The famine caused a million people to die from disease or starvation. The impact of mold on crops is staggering; it is said that over one third of all worldwide crop losses are caused by fungal disease.
During the Second World War, as well as for some years after, a condition named Alimentary Toxic Aleukia struck a large percentage of the Siberian populace. The hemorrhaging, low leukocyte count, and high fatality rate were caused by mold. The war had caused a manpower shortage, which in turn resulted in the grain being harvested in the spring instead of the fall. The grain had moldered in the fields and had become extremely toxic when eaten.
Even in our modern day, mold still causes problems in both livestock and crops. In 1960 the death of more than 100,000 turkeys in England, and the subsequent investigation, brought about the discovery of Aflatoxin on peanuts used as animal feed. Aflatoxin, caused by the common mold Aspergillus flavus, was found to have alarmingly potent carcinogenic properties and, as a result, limits of contamination were immediately implemented. Mold continues to harm livestock, causing “Hole in the Head” disease in horses, facial eczema and lupinosis in sheep, and “Grass Staggers” in cattle to name just a few.
An unusually high incidence of esophageal cancer among the Xhosa people in Africa seems to be linked to the native beer of their diet. This drink is commonly made with grain contaminated with the fungus Fusarium moniliforme.
The health effects of mold are compounded for young children living in moldy homes. Not only are children more sensitive to the harmful effects of inhaling mold spores, they have the habit of putting things in their mouths. Moldy carpets and moldy walls are not a healthy environment for anyone, especially children.Contaminated food can also affect animals.
As recently as December 31, 2005, the Associated Press reported that a prominent pet food company had to recall 19 varieties of dog and cat food because some of the food had been contaminated by Aflatoxin, a chemical produced by mold. Twenty three animal deaths have been linked to the contaminated pet food.
In conclusion, the health effects of eating moldy food can be very serious for people and animals.