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Building Related Illness

June 3, 2013


When specific symptoms such as coughing, chest tightness, fever, chills and muscle aches can be attributed directly to building contaminants in airtight, poorly ventilated buildings, then Building Related Illness (BRI) can be clearly identified by a medical professional.

Specific BRIs are those for which a link between building-related exposure and illness can be proven. Specific examples include:

  • Legionella infection
  • Occupational asthma
  • Hypersensitivity pneumonitis
  • Inhalational fever
  • Humidifier fever

Non specific BRIs are those for which a link between building-related exposure and illness is more difficult to prove. Therefore, the term "Sick Building Syndrome" has been used to refer to illnesses that occur in clusters within a building and that often cause non specific symptoms.

Building-related illness ranges from mild rhinitis to potentially life-threatening hypersensitivity pneumonitis and legionellosis. Sick-building syndrome, consisting of headache, mucous membrane irritation, and fatigue, may be present in 30% of all office workers. Hypersensitivity pneumonitis, asthma, and legionellosis are less common, and it is difficult from existing studies to estimate the incidence of these more severe illnesses.

The data is available to suggest that SBS interferes significantly with both the productivity of employees and the quality of their work life. However, this disorder is not life-threatening, and symptoms usually are reversible on leaving the building. The building associated illnesses, on the other hand, can be quite disabling and cause permanent impairment.


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