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Is Dangerous Bacteria Lurking In Your Showerhead?

Posted by Chrissie Cole
Tuesday, September 15, 2009 12:36 PM EST
Category: Major Medical
Tags: Bacteria, Toxic Substances, Mycobacterium Avium, Protecting Your Family, Shower and Water

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IMAGE SOURCE: © iStockPhoto / shower and water / author: Kickers

Bacteria are all around us – in the air we breathe, on our skin and on the surfaces we touch, but most don’t harm us.

In a recent study, the researcher’s analyzed different types of bacteria found growing inside shower heads and were surprised by what they found.

Dr. Norman Pace and colleagues of the University of Colorado at Boulder examined 50 shower heads from nine U.S. cities, including Denver and New York City and found 30 percent contained high levels of Mycobacterium avium, or M. avium – a group of bacteria that can cause lung infections when inhaled or swallowed.

"If you are getting a face full of water when you turn your shower on, you are probably getting a particularly high load of M. avium, which may not be too healthy," said Professor Pace in a statement.

While M. avium isn’t considered harmful to most people, researchers say exposure can pose a risk for those with weakened immune systems, including pregnant women and the elderly. They may develop lung infection and experience symptoms that include a persistent dry cough, shortness of breath, tiredness and generally feeling unwell.

Small amounts of the chemical are often found in tap water. M. avium forms a biofilm that clings to the inside of the shower head and becomes airborne once the shower is turned on.

Plastic shower heads appear to accumulate more bacteria-rich biofilms, therefore metal shower heads maybe a better alternative, said Professor Pace.

Pace’s previous studies involving swimming pools and their biofilms, which commonly include M. avium, led him to consider showers and germy shower heads. The current study is published online in the journal PNAS Early Edition.

"The findings shouldn't concern average, healthy people. The main concern is for people who are immune-compromised," researcher Leah Feazel told Reuters Health. However, shower heads are not the only source of potential bacteria in the home, said researchers.

More research is needed to measure bacteria levels in household devices like humidifiers and evaporative coolers, Feazel said. #


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