Friday, 3 September 2021

The Curse of the Terror Tome - ARE OLD BOOKS BAD FOR YOUR HEALTH?

Smoking, Vehicle fumes and general air pollution have all been identified as deadly with the potential to cause health problems. 

Well, now there seems to be a new risk to our wellbeing and this threat comes from an unlikely source - those old paperback books that lurk in the dusty old corners of quaint little bookshops and market stalls everywhere.

 Eric Crompton, Co-Host of the excellent Paperback Warrior podcast recently spoke about a  health scare that resulted in a section of his lung having to be removed - you can listen to the episode HERE.

In February of this year Eric started experiencing a sore throat and a persistent cough. He was originally diagnosed with Pneumonia, but as the months went on the cough didn't go away and Eric started to feel generally unwell. This all resulted in doctor's discovering an infection in Eric's right lung and so a piece of the lung was removed. Although Eric has made a full recovery he has lost around 10% of his lung capacity.

Eric's never been a smoker and doctor's had the mystery of what caused the condition known as Right Middle Lobe Syndrome in which a part of the lung simply rots away. He then began to question if his hobby of collecting paperback books, and the years he has spent browsing old bookshops. going through boxes looking for old books; some often mouldy and full of ancient dust and alienistic mites may have triggered the infection in his lung.

It may sound far fetched - CAUTION OLD BOOKS CAN DAMAGE YOUR HEALTH - but there is some data to suggest that this can indeed be dangerous. When you open an old book an air current is created which pushes whatever tiny dust particles are inside the book up the reader's nose.

Hardcover and paperback books have a number of health hazards such as dust, mites, mould, and mildew. ...

A 2003 US Library of Congress study reported that the librarians who work with dusty books are in real health danger. The range of risks varies from lung cancer and heart attack to chronic asthma, allergy problems, depression, nervous problems, skin problems etc. They should be considered workers at high risk and be protected by law. The existing standards are not enough to protect the librarians and new studies should be conducted to create new standards.

There's an interesting article in diseases caused by old books in the Smithsonian Magazine HERE.

The Dreaded Booklice

It may all seem a little much but Booklice are a thing - Booklice feed on mould caused by damp conditions. They are also believed to feed on microscopic moulds that grow on the glue of book-bindings or on damp cardboard, damp food (especially cereals) or on the surfaces close to damp plaster inside buildings, which is very common with brand new houses. Booklice seem to have no genre of choice and it is possible that you could even find them copulating within the stained pages of a well thumbed copy of Fifty Shades of Grey.

There's another twist to this story with claims being made that old books can actually make a person high - Experts on the various fungi that feed on the pages and on the covers of books are increasingly convinced that you can get high by sniffing old books. Fungus on books, they say, is a likely source of hallucinogenic spores.

 "Fungal hallucinogens in old books could lead to enhancement of enlightenment." Dr. R.J. Hay, The Lancet.

There is also a condition known as Bibliotis, which basically means that old books can cause a variety of illnesses . Sick from books is the condition that we hear more and more from librarians who say they sneeze all day, booksellers who complain of year-round sinus irritation, private collectors whose eyes burn when they relax among their beloved old books and hippies who trip out after sniffing an ancient first edition of Lord of the Rings. Anecdotal these reports may be but people who suffer book related ailments are experiencing something very real.

The jury is very much out on this one.

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