Man's Death Blamed on His Bagpipes

Mold and fungus caused 'bagpipe lung' that eventually proved fatal
By Linda Hervieux,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 23, 2016 7:31 AM CDT
Death by Bagpipe: Man’s Death Blamed on Dirty Instrument
Bagpipe lung is being blamed for the death of a musician in Britain. Mold and fungus can grow in the instrument and trigger a fatal lung condition, doctors say.   (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

It sounds like a bad joke: A Liverpool man felled by his own dirty bagpipes. But this is no Monty Python skit. After seven years spent suffering from a dry cough and worsening breathlessness, the 61-year-old musician died of hypersensitivity pneumonitis (HP), dubbed "bagpipe lung." The rare condition is caused by an allergic reaction to mold, fungus, dust, or other airborne substances that causes lung tissue and blood vessels to become inflamed, making breathing increasingly difficult, reports the Los Angeles Times. Doctors initially suspected that allergies were to blame for the bagpiper’s illness but when the man didn’t respond to treatment, they looked for other causes. The man's symptoms eased during a three-month stay in Australia, and he was able to walk six miles along the beach.

He had left his bagpipes at home; when he resumed playing back home, his illness came back. At the end of his life in 2014, the man could barely catch his breath after about 20 yards, the report found. A hunch the bagpipes were to blame turned out to be dead on. Samples taken from inside the instrument contained a fungus known to trigger HP. The authors write in the journal Thorax that "the moist environment of bagpipes promotes yeast and mold contamination, thereby making the chronic inhalation of offending antigens a likely trigger." They found two other musicians sickened by a saxophone and a trombone. The bottom line? Clean your instrument, the authors say, by taking it apart "piece by piece, cleaning it with disinfectant and allowing it to drip dry." (Another unexpected cause of death: a cat bite.)

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