A more unlikely end to the Hollywood dream could not seem possible - but this week it was reported that the deaths of actress Brittany Murphy and her British screenwriter husband Simon Monjack might have been caused by mould growing in their luxury Los Angeles home.
Murphy, who starred in such films as Clueless and Sin Sity, was only 32 when she died last December - at the time there was speculation her death was linked to drug abuse or an eating disorder.
When Monjack died in May at the age of 40, his death was blamed on heart failure. public health officials are said to be inspecting the mansion Murphy and Monjack lived in.
Now, in both cases, the cause of death has been recorded as pneumonia and anaemia, and experts have suggested mould could be to blame, damaging the couple’s respiratory systems. It may seem extraordinary, but in fact mould in the home is a common health problem, affecting tens of thousands of people in the UK, explains Malcolm Richardson, Professor of medical mycology (the study of mould) at the University of Manchester.
He adds: ‘It can form in any poorly ventilated house, no matter how grand or ordinary, but it’s especially likely where there is moisture leaking.’ A leaking radiator is often a mould hotspot - you may not even be able to see that a radiator is leaking, but even a small leak can be enough to wet the back wall and the carpet beneath.
‘But some people with poorer immune systems are unable to reject the spores, and so they germinate in their lung tissue, causing inflammation.‘Those most at risk of health problems caused by household moulds are children and babies, the elderly and those in poor health.’ Breathing in mould spores can have one of two effects - it can cause an infection, which usually strikes people with a weakened immune system.‘Mould is an opportunistic fungus, and grows aggressively in the body, stopping the organs working properly - so it can be lethal,’ says Professor Richardson.
‘Britain is especially prone to moulds, due to it being damp and cold so often, and because a lot of the housing is old,’ he says.
‘Yet compared with countries such as America and Finland, there’s not much awareness of mould or the health damage it can cause - it can be fatal.’ There are hundreds of thousands of types of mould, he says, but only about ten types cause health problems, commonly sinusitis, bronchitis and other respiratory conditions, as well as allergies.
For Christine and John Frost, from mansfield in Derbyshire, it comes as no surprise to learn that mould can have a devastating effect on health.
Mould can also cause allergic reactions, particularly asthma, as the immune system reacts to the spores when they make their way into the upper airways and sinuses.