Can you catch CIRS from your friend?
It’s a valid question. And certainly, one that brings with it a large amount of anxiety from someone progressing through the CIRS treatment protocol. The short answer to the question of whether CIRS is contagious is no. But like everything, there’s a great deal of nuance missed when we stop the discussion there. Today, we’ll explore the intricacies surrounding whether or not CIRS is contagious.
Unlike COVID, there is not a CIRS virus circulating our planet. COVID-19 is a virus that spreads through respiratory droplets and aerosols. (1) The droplets and aerosols are created when someone infected with the COVID-19 virus breathes, talks, sings, shouts, coughs, or sneezes. This form of spreading occurs in contagious diseases.
So good news – if you have CIRS, you can’t spread it to your friends and family when sharing a meal, hugging or sharing your space in any other way.
But Mark, contagious diseases are caused by micro-organisms like viruses, bacteria, parasites, and fungi. And CIRS is caused by fungi or actinomycetes bacteria. Ergo, CIRS is contagious.
This is close – but not correct. Bacteria and/or fungi triggers and maintains CIRS. But CIRS doesn’t spread the way a contagious disease spreads. With all that said, a re-exposure can (and will) occur at some point in your life – and that can make CIRS feel like it’s contagious.
Let’s dig a little deeper into the nuance!
What causes CIRS?
CIRS is caused by biotoxins. According to the CDC, biotoxins are poisons that come from plants or animals. (2) In the context of CIRS, we’re focused on toxins coming from molds and actinomycete bacteria.
For the last few decades, mold has been the focus of CIRS research, treatment, and diagnosis. Until very recently, we thought that molds and the mycotoxins produced by mold species were the sole cause of CIRS. Today, we know that CIRS can be caused by a number of different biotoxins including: (3)
- Filamentous fungi
- Spirocyclic drimanes
All of these are biotoxins. All of these can trigger CIRS in a genetically susceptible individual. And all of these can spread.
But NONE of these are contagious.
I’ll explain what I mean more clearly in the next sections. Let’s get going…
Contagious vs Infectious
Sorry folks, more nuance. Contagious is related to infectious but there are distinct differences that set the two apart. In summary:
All contagious diseases are infectious.
But not all infectious diseases are contagious.
A contagious disease is an infectious disease that spreads. A few examples will help to further clarify this for you.
Think food poisoning. Food poisoning occurs when a bacteria or virus on your food infects you. Food poisoning is infectious. But no matter how wretched you’re feeling, your loved ones aren’t going to get sick from helping you out. Food poisoning is infectious. But it’s not contagious.
That stomach flu though, that’s contagious. Your symptoms might be identical to food poisoning but this time if your loved ones are helping you, they’re at risk for catching the same thing. That’s because tiny droplets you expel when you cough, sneeze, or even talk spread the flu virus to anyone around. (4) The flu is contagious.
Ok, now you know the difference between contagious and infectious. It’s time to bring this discussion back to CIRS.
Is CIRS Contagious?
No, CIRS is not contagious. At least not in the traditional sense of the word. You’re not going to give your beloved CIRS.
It’s time to wade into a contentious swamp. This is the current mold illness/CIRS battlefield. On one side you’ve got Dr. Richie Shoemaker and his trained practitioners. On the other side is the naturopathic/holistic professionals (not all of them).
You should know my bias – I’m Shoemaker trained and certified.
- Exposure to biotoxins
- HLA genetic predisposition
- Altered innate and adaptive immunity
- Peripheral hypoperfusion at multiple sites
- Multiple hypothalamic-pituitary-end organ immune dysregulation
Note the wording here: exposure to biotoxins. It does not say infection by biotoxins. And this is an important distinction between how the Shoemaker crowd views mold illness compared to the naturopathic community:
The Shoemaker crowd views CIRS as an illness of altered innate immune function that is triggered by an exposure to biotoxins.
The naturopathic community views mold illness similar to candida – there’s mold growing inside of you and it needs to be treated.
Neither crowd will say that CIRS is contagious. But depending on your practitioner, you may find differing opinions on whether or not CIRS is an infectious illness.
A note on re-exposures
I hope we’ve firmly established that CIRS is not contagious. But it can certainly feel that way – especially when you get sick after visiting with your relatives, friends, or colleagues. This worsening, called a re-exposure, occurs after spending time in a water damaged building.
Your worsening symptoms are not occurring because someone passed mycotoxins to you through their cooking. In all likelihood, your symptom flare is occurring because one of the buildings/homes you visited had previous water damage. Up to 50% of all homes and buildings have had past or current water damage. (7)
Re-exposures and ongoing exposures are the most common reason for a lack of progress in treatment. Now, let’s venture into the spread of molds and mycotoxins from one home to another. Yikes!
What about the spread of molds/bacteria from one place to another?
This is where CIRS starts to really feel contagious. Molds and their mycotoxins can land on surfaces like your clothing, furniture, and carpets and then move with you to the new location.
You might initially feel great after moving from one home that had an elevated HERTSMI-2 score to a new home with a very low score. But after some time passes, you may notice your symptoms starting to return.
What’s going on?
Cross-contamination. That’s what’s going on. Items that were in your water-damaged home are covered in particulates. These particulates then enter your new, clean living space and can start to trigger your symptoms once again.
This phenomenon can also occur when/if a loved one of yours resides in a water damaged building comes to visit you in your clean space. Individuals can bring contaminants on their person, belongings, and/or clothing. Now CIRS is really starting to feel contagious.
A quick note on this from my professional experience:
Re-exposure from other people is incredibly rare. This only occurs in my most sensitive of patients. Often the benefit we receive from social connection far outweighs the potential risk of re-exposure.
How to prevent cross contamination
It’s worth reiterating that the vast majority of my patients experience symptom improvement after moving out of a water-damaged building or after remediating their current home. In general, once the environmental testing scores improve, so do a person’s symptoms. This section on cross-contamination is for the ultra-sensitive crowd – those of you who aren’t getting better even though your environmental reports suggest you should be.
Here are some general guidelines that are better outlined in Mold Illness: Surviving and Thriving:
- Launder using antimicrobial detergent such as borax.
- If there is visible mold growth, throw it out
- Cannot be remediated
- Cannot be remediated
- HEPA vacuum
- Wipe with anti-microbial spray
- Dry wipe with microfibre cloth
You may also find that you need to setup a decontamination room for when guests arrive to your home. This will further ensure that you’re not being re-exposed. I want to reinforce the benefits of social connection. CIRS is an isolating condition. Taking further steps to avoid human interaction can have intensely negative health outcomes – even when they’re preventing re-exposure. I recommend working with a knowledgeable practitioner to help you best balance re-exposure and social connection.
Ok, now you know that CIRS isn’t contagious – even though it can behave as though it is!
It’s time for me to hear from you.
What have you done to ensure your living situation is CIRS-friendly?