AUG 24, 2016 07:12 AM PDT

Diagnosed: Musician Died from ‘Bagpipe Lung'

WRITTEN BY: Xuan Pham
 It seems unlikely that being a musician could come with any big health risks. However, for one bagpiper from the United Kingdom, his instrument was the source of his fatal infection.
 
The man was 61-years-old who practiced his bagpipe regularly. Doctors noted he had a history of bad health but couldn’t pinpoint the cause of his illness. In particular, he suffered from hypersensitivity pneumonitis, a fancy name to describe a serious inflammation in the lungs triggered by some allergen.
 
Bagpipe lung: A new type of lung disease? | Image: pixabay.com

The doctors searched his home for mold but found none. They suspected his birds contributed to his lung inflammation, but the evidence also didn’t check out.
 
The turning point came when doctors analyzed the patient’s habits and travels. In particular, they noted his health seemed to have improved mildly when he traveled to Australia for 3 months, leaving his bagpipes at home. When he returned home and resumed his musical practice, the symptoms flared up once again.
 
They suspected the allergens were living inside the bagpipes. Indeed, laboratory tests cinched the diagnosis. “We isolated mold and fungi that are known to be associated with hypersensitivity pneumonitis and propose that was the likely cause of it,” said Jenny King, first author of the study. “It is likely [down to] spores from the fungi and mold that, when you inhale them, your body and your immune system react to them,” she explained. The patient appeared to have had an intense immune reaction to the spores, which was unfortunately not caught before he passed away.
 
Of note, the condition hypersensitivity pneumonitis is not new, nor is it strictly confined to bagpipers. This case and others like it, however, have had doctors dubbing it “bagpiper’s lung.” Add this to the list of other names associated with this disease, such as “bird fancier’s lung”, “farmer’s lung” and even “hot tub lung.”
 

“[Musicians] need to be aware that there are risks that instruments can become colonized with mold and fungi and this can be related to serious and potentially fatal lung disease,” said Dr. Jenny King, first author of the study, of North Manchester general hospital.
 
Before the advent of new synthetic fabrics, bagpipes were made with leather, which required daily “seasoning” treatments. As it turns out, the seasoning not only maintained the leather quality, it also acted as an antiseptic to keep bacteria and fungi out. With synthetic fabric, the need for daily seasoning was eliminated, leaving a damp environment where microbes thrived.
 
The moral of the story? If you’re a trumpeter, saxophonist, piper or a player of any wind instrument, make sure to take instrument hygiene seriously. “Wind instrument hygiene is really important in preventing this and [musicians] should be stringent in cleaning their instruments regularly,” said King.

Additional source: BBC News
About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
You May Also Like
APR 23, 2018
Cancer
APR 23, 2018
UroSEEK: Early Bladder and Urothelial Cancer Urine Screening Test Developed to Complement Urine Cytology
New, non-invasive urine screening test called UroSEEK was developed by Johns Hopkins to detect low grade bladder and urothelial cancers using DNA detection methods and technology....
MAY 17, 2018
Immunology
MAY 17, 2018
Epigenetic Similarities Between Rheumatoid Arthritis and Huntington's Disease
A detailed investigation into the epigenome of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patients revealed unexpected similarities between RA and Huntington’s diseas...
MAY 24, 2018
Neuroscience
MAY 24, 2018
Can Brain Fold Patterns Predict Psychosis?
While it's a famous slogan and not meant to be taken verbatim, in neuroscience, it's often true that "Image is everything." A recent stud...
MAY 28, 2018
Clinical & Molecular DX
MAY 28, 2018
Bacterial Toxin Linked to Inflammatory Bowel Disease
Scientists have found evidence that it's not a bacterium, but one of its toxins, that is connected to, and possibly causing intestinal dysfunction....
JUL 07, 2018
Cardiology
JUL 07, 2018
Hybrid Imaging of the Heart Predicts Heart Attack Risk
The combination of two different types of imaging seems to be the most accurate way to predict heart attacks. Based on studies from the University Hospital...
JUL 11, 2018
Clinical & Molecular DX
JUL 11, 2018
Certain tests better flag fetuses with brain disorder risk
Fetuses with a specific, rare chromosomal aberration have a 20 percent risk of developmental or other brain disorder, new research shows. The work could le...
Loading Comments...