Beware ‘Bagpipe Lung’

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A report in the journal Thorax describes a newly recognized cause of a potentially fatal lung disease: playing a contaminated wind instrument.

A 61-year-old man came to a clinic in Manchester, England, with a seven-year history of dry cough and progressive breathlessness, thought to be allergies. He had been treated with immunosuppressive therapy, but his symptoms had worsened; he could hardly walk 25 yards without being out of breath.

The man played the bagpipes daily as a hobby, but left his instrument at home for a three-month stay in Australia, during which his symptoms disappeared. When he resumed playing, the symptoms returned. His lung function was poor, and he was treated with antibiotics, but died six months later.

Doctors took samples from his bagpipes and found six species of fungi. A saxophone and a trombone have been implicated in similar cases.

“There isn’t a lot of evidence about the best way to clean these instruments,” said the lead author, Dr. Jenny King, a pulmonologist at University Hospital of South Manchester. “What’s described in the literature is taking the instrument apart piece by piece, cleaning it with disinfectant and allowing it to drip dry.”