700 Children's® – A Blog by Pediatric Experts

Mold in Children's Hospitals: What Parents Need to Know

Apr 27, 2020

We are exposed to molds every day. Molds are a type of fungus found almost everywhere – in the soil in your yard, in the air you breathe, in your shower at home, and in your basement. Molds grow best in the spring and summer, when it is warm and humid outside.

For children (and adults) with healthy immune systems, mold exposure from the environment is not dangerous. Our immune systems keep the mold from causing infections or making us sick. Some people who are sensitive to molds might develop allergy symptoms due to chronic exposure to high amounts of mold.

How Does Nationwide Children’s Hospital Try to Limit Mold Exposure?

We work hard to minimize the amount of mold in our facilities. The air handling units in the hospital are equipped with high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters that remove particles larger than 0.3 microns from the air. Most mold spores are much larger and are easily removed from the air entering the rooms and hospital.

Whenever a child who is a patient in the hospital presents with a fungal infection, infection control specialists on the hospital staff investigate to try to find the source of the infection. Most mold infections that are diagnosed in a hospitalized patient typically started from mold exposure prior to being admitted to the hospital. 

How Do We Limit Mold Exposure for the Most Vulnerable Patients?

In areas where immunocompromised patients are being treated, such as children being treated with chemotherapy or receiving a bone marrow transplant, we take extra precautions. Mold can be dangerous and more likely to cause an infection in people who have compromised immune systems.

For example, the bone marrow transplant (BMT) unit has a dedicated HEPA filtration unit to clean the air in patient rooms. The unit is also protected by an “air curtain” called a positive pressure gradient which keeps outside air (which may contain mold) from coming into the patient room when the door is opened.

In order to protect these children from other possible sources of mold, fresh fruit and flowers are not allowed in the BMT unit.

A team of experts at Nationwide Children’s regularly monitor the hospital environment to ensure the air is safe for our patients. In the BMT unit, regular monitoring includes taking samples of the air to check for molds. While there is no official guidance or recommendation about what levels of mold pose a risk to patients, Nationwide Children's Hospital takes the time and effort to ensure patient safety when mold levels are higher than expected.

What We Do When We Detect Mold Levels That Are Higher Than Usual?

Using our patient safety program (Zero Hero) promises of “Do not harm me” and “Keep me well”, the wellbeing of patients is immediately ensured. Then a team of experts searches for the source of increased mold levels and works toward correcting the issue. This source could be a leaky water pipe, a crack in a window seal or even a moldy apple.

Air sampling of inpatient areas may occasionally show higher than expected levels of mold. However, these levels are typically much lower than the levels of mold found in the outside air. When this happens, measures are taken to keep patients safe and families are notified of the results. Some particularly vulnerable patients may be relocated while additional measures are taken to purify the air. 

Other areas in the hospital where immunocompromised patients could be at risk, such as the operating rooms and intensive care units, also have controls in place to ensure the air is safe, such as HEPA filter changes, humidity monitoring and preventative maintenance of the air handling units (HVAC). At Nationwide Children’s, our core values demand that we “Do the right thing” for our patients and their families. We believe that your child’s safety comes first - always. We strive to respect the trust that you place in us. Our proactive approach to mold surveillance and monitoring is only one example of our dedication to best outcomes for kids everywhere.

If you have specific questions regarding your child’s condition, please consult with your doctor who knows your child best.

Featured Expert

Jeffery Auletta
Jeffery Auletta, MD
Hematology, Oncology and BMT
Nationwide Children's Hospital Medical Professional
Matthew Washam, MD, MPH
Infectious Diseases

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700 Children’s® features the most current pediatric health care information and research from our pediatric experts – physicians and specialists who have seen it all. Many of them are parents and bring a special understanding to what our patients and families experience. If you have a child – or care for a child – 700 Children’s was created especially for you.