Over the past two years, after thousands of homes were flooded in the Midwest, doctors warned residents about the danger of indoor mold growth. "When your building has been flooded, it's very difficult to dry it out quickly and completely," explains H. James Wedner, MD, chief of allergy and immunology at Washington University School of Medicine, in St. Louis. The number-one rule is to remove all wet building materials, carpet, and even wood because they can't be salvaged if they've been saturated for longer than two days. "Sheetrock soaks up water far above the flood line; mold can be hidden under wallpaper, carpet, and floorboards, as well as in ceiling tiles, furniture, and clothing," says Dr. Wedner. Contamination can start with just a trickle of water -- even a small leak in your roof or pipes can lead to a major mold problem that can make your family sick. Although mold can grow behind your walls or in your basement where you can't see it, you may see dark patches on surfaces or notice a musty smell.
Jennifer Minus learned how insidious mold can be when her family moved into military housing on the East Coast. Her son, Joseph, then 6, started sniffling soon after the move, and eventually he couldn't breathe out of his nose at all -- even with his allergy medication. "He had trouble sleeping, he'd get winded easily, and he was generally miserable," recalls Minus. She found mold growing on a wooden window frame, so she cleaned it with a bleach solution, but then she heard that neighbors had recently moved out of their house because of mold. She had her home's air quality checked, and the test revealed massive amounts of mold. "It was growing inside the window frames and through the wall," says Minus. The army moved the family to new housing, and Joseph's symptoms improved quickly, even though it was prime allergy season. Unfortunately, though, most families aren't able to escape from their moldy home this easily.