Steer clear of fungus-infested bagpipes

For your health’s sake, be sure to regularly clean your musical instruments.

A 78-year-old bagpipe player from rural England survived a nearly fatal case of fungal pneumonia that doctors say he developed from spores that grew inside his instrument, according to a NBC News story.

That’s right. He nearly died from fungus-infested bagpipes.


The lifelong player is now warning other players to be sure to disinfect their bagpipes.

“Failing to clean my pipes led to me becoming critically ill,” John Shone of Wiltshire told NBC.

Shone practices playing daily but had not cleaned his instrument for at least 18 months. Bagpipes are temperamental, and he was preparing for an important performance so Shone didn’t want to alter the instrument in any way, he told NBC.

He became ill last fall with a mysterious ailment that initially resisted most drugs. Doctors were stumped by the infection and began asking Shone about his hobbies. When they learned he played bagpipes, they asked to test the instrument.

“The ‘path lab’ reported they had grown a large number of fungi easily and that the deadly fungus that had infected my lungs was amongst them,” Shone told NBC.

According to the NBC article, the synthetic bags favored by modern pipers are an ideal environment for bacteria, mold and fungus that can grow in saliva that gets into the bags during playing.

Bacterial and fungal infections aren’t limited to bagpipes.

A study in the International Journal of Environmental Health tested 20 instruments and found that germs can live for a few hours to several days on wind instruments such as clarinets, flutes and saxophones (a deactivated strain of tuberculosis bacteria survived for up to 13 days).

Again, gross.

Marissa Harshman

Marissa Harshman

I'm the health reporter for The Columbian newspaper in Vancouver, Wash. I started at The Columbian -- my hometown newspaper -- in September 2009. Reach me at or 360-735-4546.

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