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Farmer catches pneumonia from onion peel

An onion farmer caught pneumonia after breathing in life-threatening fungi from the vegetable’s peel.

The unnamed man, 62, believed to be from Japan, went to hospital after suffering from a dry cough, fatigue and shortness of breath for two weeks.

Despite being an onion farmer for several years, he became unwell after using an air compressor to clean the surface of the vegetable. Air compressors use pressurised air to forcibly clean products. 

The fungi responsible, called Aspergillus fumigatus, is associated with a condition known as farmer’s lung, which causes lung inflammation after inhaling dust from hay, mould or other agricultural products.

Air compressors are thought to spread fungi and lead to the pathogen’s repeated inhalation, causing the patient to be diagnosed with hypersensitivity pneumonia.

He is thought to have made a full recovery and returned to work. 

An onion farmer caught pneumonia after breathing in dangerous fungi from the peel (stock)


Hypersensitivity pneumonia occurs when lungs develop an immune response to something a person breathes in, leading to tissue inflammation.

This could be mould on hay, straw or grain; or particles on feathers or bird droppings.

Symptoms include cough, shortness of breath, fever and joint pains.

If these appear suddenly, the symptoms should disappear providing the cause of the problem is avoided.

When symptoms come on more gradually, it suggests permanent scarring of the lungs. The cause is often unclear in such cases.

Treatment focuses on avoiding the trigger.

Anti-inflammatory medication may help. 

Source: British Lung Foundation 

Crackling sound in the chest 

Physical examinations of the patient’s head, neck and abdomen all came back clear, however, a crackling sound was produced when the patient inhaled.

X-rays revealed an abnormal air space in the upper part of one of his lungs, as well as tissue thickening and partial lung collapse. 

The patient, who had previously been treated for high blood pressure and smoked for 35 years, also had swelling in his lung tissue and a reduced ability to exhale.

Onion peels to blame 

After a week in hospital, the patient’s symptoms improved without any treatment. 

Doctors suspected he picked up an infection at home or work and asked him to stay at home for one day, clean onion peels via an air compressor on the second day before returning to hospital on day three.

Upon the patient’s return to hospital, he complained of suffering a cough and fever just three hours after cleaning the onions.

After the patient was discharged for a second time and went home without cleaning any onions, he suffered no symptoms.

Blood tests revealed the patient’s immune cell count was high, suggesting he was fighting an infection, as well as inflammation. A further X-ray showed his lungs had deteriorated.  

Farmer returned to work 

After leaving a petri dish out overnight, fungal colonies were discovered at his workplace.   

The patient continues to work as an onion farmer but now wears a mask.

The findings were published in the journal Respiratory Medicine Case Reports.