Bagpipe lung – a new name for a very old disease

The death of a bagpipe player has revealed a disease-causing fungus lurking in unclean instruments – and musicians are not its only victims

Pass notes: Bagpipe lung.

Age: New, but probably old.

Appearance: Alveolar.

Don’t tell me – this is a pulmonary disease that makes you wheeze like a bag o’pipes? Or a weaponised virus that Theresa May has threatened to unleash on Scotland if Nicola Sturgeon calls for another referendum? Neither. It’s a new name for hypersensitivity pneumonitis.

Which is? A potentially fatal inflammation of the lungs caused by inhaling certain allergens. A piper recently died of it and the disease seems to have been triggered by fungi lurking in the instrument. The case baffled doctors until they realised he had got better during a three-month visit to Australia in 2011, when he had to leave his bagpipes behind.

That all sounds very Gregory House of them. It really was.

And pipers being felled by these fungi is new? Yes. Until recently, the bag of bagpipes was made from leather and needed to be “seasoned” to stay in working order. That seasoning had an antiseptic – and therefore antifungal – effect that protected players.

And now? Now they’re made of synthetic fabric that doesn’t need treating but which does then provide a perfect environment for dangerous spores to thrive.

There is almost nothing to be said for the modern world, is there? Nothing at all.

So – is medical advice for everyone to stop playing the bagpipes? This seems to me to have wider advantages than mere improvement in collective pulmonary health. No. Just to clean their instruments regularly with a brush and detergent.

And then we will see the back of hypersensitivity pneumonitis? No. Just the version caused by allergens in bagpipes. It’s also known as bird fancier’s lung, cheese-washer’s lung, coffee roaster’s lung, compost lung, farmer’s lung, hot tub lung, miller’s lung, laboratory worker’s lung and many more.

How many more? Malt worker’s lung, thatched roof disease, tobacco worker’s lung, wine-grower’s lung, woodworker’s lung ...

OK, OK – I get it. Any job where you’re near mould or breathing dust in all day long. Although – how do you get it in a laboratory? You can contract it from proteins in male rat urine.

Well. You live and learn, eh? You live and learn. As long as you don’t inhale too deeply, yes.

Do say: “Dook yer chanters, and dook ’em guid!”

Don’t say: “Can’t they just go back to making the bags out of dead haggises like they used to?”

The GuardianTramp

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