The mother of actress Brittany Murphy, who died in 2009 of pneumonia, is saying that her daughter and her son-in-law passed away because of toxic mold in the couple's home, according to news reports.
Last year, the Los Angeles coroner's office reported that Murphy died of a combination of pneumonia, anemia and prescription drug intoxication, according to ABC News, with no evidence that mold was a culprit. Murphy's husband also died from pneumonia a few months later.
"It is unusual to have two people die of similar circumstances with pneumonia. We've been looking at it and saying, 'Something isn't right,'" Los Angeles County assistant chief coroner Ed Winter told ABC News. "I'm not saying you can't get pneumonia from mold, but we did all the tests on it -- mold did not come up in the toxicology reports."
But TMZ reported that Murphy's mother believes the mold in the house caused their illnesses and deaths.
We are exposed to molds all the time, but some molds are more dangerous than others because they produce toxic substances called mycotoxins, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Mold can occur in buildings when there is dampness from water incursion (like from leaking pipes or rainwater), the CDC reported.
Exposure to mold can lead to allergic reactions, asthma attacks and even pneumonia, although pneumonia as a result of mold exposure is rare, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health. Infections can also occur in people whose immune systems are weakened. Pneumonia is defined as lung inflammation caused by infection by an organism (such as a virus, bacteria or another kind of organism), HealthCentral reported.
The CDC reports that a condition called "hypersensitivity pneumonitis" is a possible complication of mold exposure. The condition might seem like pneumonia, but it can't be cured by antibiotics, and its symptoms include cough, chills, fever, fatigue, muscle aches and shortness of breath. If a person is continually exposed to the mold, the damage caused by hypersensitivity pneumonitis can bring on scarring and permanent damage, according to the CDC.
Repeated episodes of hypersensitive pneumonitis can lead to bacterial pneumonia, according to North Carolina State University.
If you think that you might be getting sick because of mold in your home or workplace, the CDC advises seeking a diagnosis and treatment as soon as possible from a doctor. In addition, it's important to immediately notify the people in charge of building maintenance of the health problems.
Two years ago, 68 residents of an apartment complex in California sued their complex, saying that they were made sick from toxic mold growing in the building, CBS News reported. One of the women in the suit, Jennifer Lair, clams that the mold was responsible for her 2-year-old's death (her daughter's official cause of death was pneumonia).