Microbial Agents in the Indoor Environment: Associations with Health

  • Dan NorbäckEmail author
  • Gui-Hong Cai
Part of the Current Topics in Environmental Health and Preventive Medicine book series (CTEHPM)


There is international consensus that damp buildings and indoor mould can increase the risk of asthma, rhinitis, bronchitis and respiratory tract infections but we do not know which types of microbial agents that are causing the observed adverse health effects. Microbial indoor exposure is a broader concept than microbial growth in buildings. Other sources of indoor microbial exposure include the outdoor environment, humans (crowdedness) and furry pet keeping. Microbial exposure can have different health effects depending on the dose, different exposure route, genetic disposition and the timing of exposure. Microbial stimulation linked to large microbial diversity in early life can protect against disease development, especially for allergic asthma and atopy. Protective effects are more often reported for bacterial exposure and adverse health effects are more often linked to mould exposure. There are many studies on health associations for indoor exposure to endotoxin, mainly from homes. The risk of getting atopic asthma may be less if you are exposed to endotoxin in childhood but the risk of non-atopic asthma may increase if exposed to endotoxin especially in adulthood. Moreover, genetic disposition modifies health effects of endotoxin. Epidemiological studies on muramic acid (from gram-positive bacteria) or ergosterol (from mould) are few. Studies on health effects of indoor exposure to beta-1-3-glucan (from mould) have conflicting results (positive as well as negative associations). Epidemiological studies on health effects of indoor exposure to mycotoxins are very few. Some studies have reported health associations for MVOC, but it is unclear to what extent MVOC has microbial sources in indoor environments. Many studies have reported health associations for fungal DNA, especially as a risk factor for childhood asthma at home. Since most studies on health effects of indoor exposure to mould, bacteria and microbial agents are cross-sectional, it is difficult to draw conclusions on causality. More prospective studies on indoor microbial exposure are needed and studies should include other indoor environments than homes, such as day care centers, schools, hospitals and offices.


Mould Bacteria Endotoxin Beta-1-3-glucan Muramic acid Fungal DNA Microbial volatile organic compounds (MVOC) Mycotoxins Asthma Respiratory symptoms 


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© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Medical SciencesUppsala UniversityUppsalaSweden

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