Can a building with mold induce joint problems, including rheumatoid arthritis?

Yes. Rheumatoid arthritis can be triggered in some people by working in a building with mold and damp-loving bacteria.  RA and other rheumatic diseases developed in employees of two different buildings with poor indoor air quality [1,2]. 

Mold damage and actinobacteria infection were found in walls and under the foundation of a health center after all 34 employees had developed rheumatic symptoms [2]  Ironic, isn’t it? 

Two of the 34 employees developed rheumatoid arthritis. Three more workers met the 1987 RA classification criteria. Sixteen employees had joint pains. These joint pains began in 11 employees after beginning to work at the health center [2].

In a second building, ten employees of 83 to 113 employees developed rheumatic diseases in a different building with an air quality problem—again from mold and damp-loving bacteria.  Three developed rheumatoid arthritis, one had psoriatic arthritis, two had Sjogren’s syndrome, and four had ankylosing spondylitis.1    

Rheumatoid arthritis and other rheumatic diseases usually do not begin in most people of a group at the same time.

These data support the role of the mold and damp-loving microbes in the onset of RA and other rheumatic diseases in susceptible people [2] 

Can avoiding the moldy environment reverse the symptoms?

Interestingly, half of the employees (17/34) had circulating immune complexes during the months and years working in the Health Center. Most of these employees (82%, 14/17) had cleared them by 18 months after the health center closed [2].  

These data suggest to me that removing the instigating infection or exposure to the mold spores can  help reverse even antibody-based disease signs [2].

Dr. Luosujarvi et al described the disease course of one of the patients. He wrote, “Our patient terminated his work at the health center soon after he became ill, and this may be the reason why he has now been in remission without drugs for 3 years.”  [2].  

Thus, changing the environment by removing the mold or moving to a new location can help relieve symptoms, at least in some people.

Can other molds cause arthritis symptoms?

Yes.  A six-year-old boy who came down with a chronic arthritis turned out to have a mold infection.3 It had pus. The arthritis arose after a bicycle accident.  Thus, this boy experienced two events associated with a higher risk of developing RA, namely physical trauma and infection [4].

The infection was cured with an effective anti-fungal agent, which happened to be the third one administered [3]. However, the knee remained stiff. 

Outdoor accidents that infect someone with mold can lead to arthritis in susceptible people.

Selected References  

1.  Myllykangas-Luosujarvi R, Seuri M, Husman T, Korhonen R, Pakkala K, Aho K. A cluster of inflammatory rheumatic diseases in a moisture-damaged office. Clin Exp Rheumatol. 2002;20(6):833-836.

2.  Luosujarvi RA, Husman TM, Seuri M, et al. Joint symptoms and diseases associated with moisture damage in a health center. Clin Rheumatol. 2003;22(6):381-385.

3.  Haapasaari J, Essen RV, Kahanpaa A, Kostiala AA, Holmberg K, Ahlqvist J. Fungal arthritis simulating juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. Br Med J (Clin Res Ed). 1982;285(6346):923-924.

4.  Molnar-Kimber KL, Kimber CT. Each type of cause that initiates rheumatoid arthritis or RA flares differentially affects the response to therapy. Med Hypotheses. 2012;78(1):123-129.

5.  Filler SG, Yeaman MR, Sheppard DC. Tumor necrosis factor inhibition and invasive fungal infections. Clin Infect Dis. 2005;41 Suppl 3:S208-212.

6.  Netea MG, Marodi L. Innate immune mechanisms for recognition and uptake of Candida species. Trends Immunol. 2010;31(9):346-353.

7.   Moen K, Brun JG, Madland TM, Tynning T, Jonsson R. Immunoglobulin G and A antibody responses to Bacteroides forsythus and Prevotella intermedia in sera and synovial fluids of arthritis patients. Clin Diagn Lab Immunol. 2003;10(6):1043-1050.