Beware, bagpipers!Getty images

It seems that the laments of those who feel the sounds of bagpipes are akin to suffering an extremely long, slow, and painful death may be truer than they imagined: the traditional instrument could be the cause of death for some of its players.

In a report published last week in the medical journal Thorax, researchers from the University Hospital of South Manchester in England revealed they found a slew of harmful fungi and yeast in the bagpipes of a man who died from an unexplained lung problem.

The team of researchers have now highlighted how important it is to carry out proper clinical history checks that include the hobbies and pastimes enjoyed by patients when attempting to diagnose an unknown illness.

“This case highlights the importance of a careful clinical history including hobbies,” researchers wrote. “Thorough clinical history exploring occupation, environmental triggers and pastimes is very important in cases of HP.”

The man in question was unnamed throughout the report but later revealed as Edinburgh-born Bruce Campbell who came from a long-established piping family. His family was upset to discover the cause of his illness from a medical paper and criticized the hospital for what they felt was a breach of privacy. The hospital has since apologized

Campbell arrived at Wythenshawe Hospital, a Manchester lung disease clinic, in April 2014 after seven years of finding it harder and harder to breath. He had five years earlier been diagnosed with hypersensitivity pneumonitis, or HP, a serious inflammation of the lungs.

Once able to run 10km, he could now barely walk a couple of meters with his lungs working at just a third of their normal capacity. 


A bagpipe band at the New York St. Patrick's Day Parade.

A bagpipe band at the New York St. Patrick's Day Parade.

HP has gone by many other names before as doctors attempted to find a cause for the condition. Among them were farmer’s lung, hot tub lung, humidifier lung, and the strangest of all, pigeon fancier’s lung (technical term for pigeon keeper).

The five doctors from the clinic who studied Campbell’s case, however, have now dubbed HP “Bagpipe lung” as despite searching his home for mold, and treating him with different courses of drugs, it was only posthumously they discovered the large numbers of bacteria living within his daily hobby: his bagpipes.

With cocktail after cocktail of drugs failing to cure him, Campbell received a respite from his troubles during a three-month stint to Australia only to quickly deteriorate again as soon as he returned to the UK, what the doctors now understand to be a return to his bagpipes, which he did not bring with him to the land down under.

Despite their best efforts, Campbell died on October 10, 2014.

On inspecting his bagpipes after his death, researchers found a plethora of nasty species making a home for themselves in all different parts of the instrument.

Read more: Learn to play Irish music, Part 1: Choosing an instrument

Within the airbag alone they discovered a mixture of Paecilomyces variotii, Fusarium oxysporum, Rhodotorula mucilaginosa, and Penicillium species, a chilling rainbow of growth when placed in a petri dish.

Pink yeast was also found in the instrument’s mouthpiece as well as fungi on the neck, chanter, chanter reed, chanter reed protector, bass drone and tenor drone, the report states.

“If that had been identified earlier, and he had stopped playing the bagpipes or cleaned them regularly, he may well have just gotten better,” Jenny King, the study’s lead author said, explaining how he inhaled this mixture of mold every time he picked up the pipes.

The family are now calling for a full investigation into his death, however, and how a professional piper, who cleaned his instrument regularly could have been so affected by mould, and why the hospital has not informed them of the possible danger.

"He knew exactly what he had to do,” his daughter Erin Tabinor told The Telegraph.

"He was an expert in this. I want to find out exactly what has happened. I want to know how it was missed... why they didn't tell us?

"Why they didn't bother to let us know about this? I want a full investigation into his death."

This is not the first time mold inside bagpipes has been shown to cause illness in its musicians.

Professional piper John Shone told The Guardian newspaper how he fell seriously ill in 2013 only to discover the breathlessness and weakness was caused by fungus growing inside his instrument.

“It was very much life-threatening, I was near death” Shone said, explaining that although modern materials now used in the making of bagpipes do make them airtight, they also lack the “seasoning” bag of the old-fashioned pipes which had antiseptic properties.

And so a lesson to all bagpipe players: if you really must pick up the instrument make sure to clean it out as regular as possible to avoid “bagpipe lung”!

Read more: The history and origins of traditional Irish music

H/T: Washington Post