Bagpipes are musical instruments used in various forms for several thousand years. They were found in western Asia, North Africa and Europe, the varieties used in Scotland being the most familiar. A set of bagpipes consists of an airtight reservoir made of animal skin, a blowpipe to inflate it, a chanter that is played with two hands like a recorder and makes the melody, one or more reeds producing more sounds and the drone, a reed that plays a constant note in harmony. Although the Scots used them on the battlefield as a call to war, sometimes replacing the trumpet, there may not be an instrument that sounds more mournful than the bagpipes. They are often heard at solemn occasions such as funerals.
But now they may be causing them. An article in the medical journal Thorax reports that playing the bagpipes can be fatal! Apparently molds and fungi can collect in the bag. An unfortunate piper had been inhaling them as he played his instrument daily and that caused a disease called interstitial lung disease hypersensitivity pneumonitis (HP) that killed him. At least five different fungi were cultured from the bag of his bagpipes. It is hypersensitivity to the pathogens, not infection that causes the illness. The problem has also been found in poultry handlers, farmers and veterinarians and has been related to use of other wind instruments, whose players who have been advised to clean them often. So in a break from tradition, synthetic, cleanable bags may soon come into greater fashion among bagpipers.