Penicillium – Infection, Transmission & Diseases


Penicillium is a mold that is distributed almost worldwide and occurs mainly in and on the ground. It can also be found on plants. Because of the branched shape of its reproductive organs, it is also called the brush mold .

The spores are usually slightly green in color. The fungus thrives best in warm and humid conditions. Penicillium infests bread, cheese, fruit (apples, peaches, citrus fruits), jam and fruit juices particularly frequently. Some of its species are used to produce the antibiotic active ingredient penicillin and to refine foods such as mold cheese (Camembert, Roquefort).

Because they prevent the emergence of competing fungi, individual species are also used in the manufacture of sausage products. Penicillium can trigger asthma and cause various allergic reactions , such as coughing , hives , sneezing attacks and colds , but also bronchitis and rhinitis (inflammation of the nasal mucosa).

In addition, many species of brush mold release mycotoxins that are highly toxic in their effect. These substances are ingested by humans mainly through spoiled food.

What is Penicillium?

In cool and temperate climates, Penicillium can be found almost anywhere organic matter is decomposed. These types of mold are particularly common on garden soil and in leaves. They are usually easily found in damp basements, plumbing, mattresses, ceiling wallpaper, window sills, and upholstered furniture. Penicillium also likes to settle in house dust, organic waste and hay. Under ideal conditions, mold is able to break down cellulose. More than 200 different species of brush mold are known.

Penicillium is characterized by very rapid growth in the colonies. The spore flight extends to the period between April and September. The mycelium is initially white in color, but then changes to greenish or yellowish hues.

The antibiotic effect of these molds was discovered in the late 1920s in experiments on bacterial cultures. Under laboratory conditions, the mold no longer allowed bacteria to spread.

Occurrence, Distribution & Properties

The molds are ingested by humans through the skin , by inhalation or with the gastrointestinal system . Clarity about the causes of possible symptoms such as diarrhea , headaches and itchy skin can only be brought about by an examination by an allergist. This procedure is gaining in importance as traces of fungal allergens can increasingly find their way into nutritional products during industrial production. Although these residues are generally harmless for healthy people, they can be very difficult for people with allergies. It is estimated that around six percent of people in Central Europe are allergic to mould.

With a total of around 250,000 different types of mushrooms, it is impossible to develop an allergy test for each one. However, allergic reactions to Penicillium have been scientifically proven. It was found that the corresponding pathogens are mainly found indoors and there in turn populate above all perishable food and organic waste. They find the best conditions for this at a humidity of 80 percent and above and temperatures between 20 and 25 °C.

The fungi can be found in food even if they don’t show any signs of mold on the outside. Allergy sufferers develop the symptoms against the specific pathogens primarily when they have drunk alcohol or eaten cheese, highly salted foods and foods containing yeast.

Meaning & Function

The mold species Penicillium chrysogenum is the most well-known supplier of the antibiotic penicillin. Already at the end of the 19th century it was discovered that mold contains certain acidic substances that can inhibit the growth of body parasites. The anthrax pathogen was the first example of bacteria being killed in this context.

Penicillin was and still is refined from the microorganisms of the fungi so that it is available in a chemically usable form. It was the reason for the great success of antibiotics in medicine. Most of the antibiotics that are still in use today have natural models.

Diseases & Ailments

Frequently recurring symptoms of an allergy to Penicillium are a long-lasting or year-round cold, a constantly blocked nose and conjunctivitis with noticeably itchy and watery eyes . If the lungs are affected, this becomes noticeable through a dry cough , wheezing, congested airways and, in special cases, with asthma and acute shortness of breath .

In the gastrointestinal area, allergies lead to frequent abdominal pain , flatulence , diarrhea , repeated vomiting and permanent nausea . On the skin , allergic sensitivity manifests itself in eczema , itching , so-called wheals (urticaria) or neurodermatitis . In the general condition, defense reactions against brush mold in the form of permanent migraines , sleep disorders and general weaknessaware of oneself. If they are not treated effectively, they bring with them considerable disadvantages in the daily rhythm of life in the long term.

If the doctor can make an accurate diagnosis, the simplest treatment for a mold allergy is to avoid the offending food completely or temporarily. At the same time, medication may be administered to drive away acute symptoms. The use of antihistamines and cortisone preparations is common . However, the allergic reaction itself is not treated with it.

If the cause of allergic reactions to Penicillium or other molds is not precisely determined, certain food products should no longer be consumed as a precautionary measure. This includes yeast products, mold cheese, fruit juices, alcoholic beverages and all ready meals. Great caution is also required with fruit vinegar, grapes, industrially manufactured baked goods, products containing malt, ice cream and tomato ketchup.

Molds are also often present in products containing vinegar, such as sauerkraut and salad dressings. Likewise, allergy sufferers should be careful when consuming soy sauce and vegetable broth. Last but not least, citric acid, which is very often used as an additive in food, can lead to allergic symptoms. This is produced with the direct help of a mould. The citric acid in turn is the starting material for other additives such as E 380 (triammonium citrate) and E 1505 (triethyl citrate), which can also cause allergic symptoms.

Lisa Newlon
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Hello! I am Lisa Newlon, and I am a medical writer and researcher with over 10 years of experience in the healthcare industry. I have a Master’s degree in Medicine, and my deep understanding of medical terminology, practices, and procedures has made me a trusted source of information in the medical world.