Mold Suspected in Death of University Student

Source: Zlatan Durakovic - 123RF

Students at the University of Maryland fear that mold in their dorms may be the cause of the death of freshman, 18-year-old Olivia Paregol.

Paragol developed a cough, which later worsened to pneumonia. She died on November 18 at Johns Hopkins Hospital, from adenovirus, which causes respiratory problems.

In an interview with CBS News, University of Maryland freshman, Jessica Thompson, said she and her roommate discovered mold on their shoes and clothes in their dorm room in August. She believes the fungus eventually made them sick.

The University confirmed five other students have illnesses linked to the adenovirus.

According to the CDC, adenoviruses are common viruses that cause a range of illness. They can cause cold-like symptoms, sore throat, bronchitis, pneumonia, diarrhea, and pink eye (conjunctivitis). You can get an adenovirus infection at any age. People with weakened immune systems or existing respiratory or cardiac disease are more likely than others to get very sick from an adenovirus infection.

Adenoviruses usually spread from infected people to others through:

  • Close personal contact such as touching or shaking hands;
  • The air, by coughing and sneezing; and
  • Touching objects or surfaces with adenoviruses on them then touching your mouth, nose, or eyes.

In 2004, the Institute of Medicine (IOM), found there was sufficient evidence to link indoor exposure to mold with

  • Upper respiratory tract symptoms, cough, and wheeze in otherwise healthy people;
  • Asthma symptoms in people with asthma; and
  • Hypersensitivity pneumonitis in individuals susceptible to that immune-mediated condition.

The IOM also found limited or suggestive evidence linking indoor mold exposure and respiratory illness in otherwise healthy children.

After the roommates repeatedly alerted university officials, the pair — along with about 500 other students — were moved to temporary housing while the school worked to clean the dorms.

According to a report in the Baltimore Sun, in a Sept. 19 email, Maryland facilities staff sent students in dorms across campus, they said they’d been receiving reports of mold on dorm furniture and other bedroom surfaces. They blamed the heavy rains and hot temperatures, which led to increased humidity levels inside the aging dorm buildings.

Earlier this fall, the same strain of the Adenovirus was found at the center of a viral outbreak at a rehabilitation center in Wanaque, New Jersey, that has killed 11 children.

NIOSH has issued an alert on Preventing Occupational Respiratory Disease from Exposures Caused by Dampness in Office Buildings, Schools, and Other Non-industrial Buildings.