Showered with Pathogens?
Many of us are likely getting a snootful of pathogens when we step into the shower.
Norman Pace, a renowned microbiologist at the University of Colorado at Boulder (and recipient of a 2001 MacArthur Foundation "genius grant"), and his team of researchers weren't finding much to get jazzed about as they surveyed the microbiology of air and water in homes, schools and public buildings as part of an ongoing project. Sure, bacteria were everywhere, but that's normal. It wasn't until they detected mycobacterium avium bacteria on a number of shower heads that they felt they were on to something. Their research was published online this afternoon in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
M. avium causes a pulmonary infection that appears to be on the rise in the U.S. The bacteria were found to cling to shower heads in little clumps, with bacteria 100 times more concentrated there than in the water itself. Pace notes that shower heads spraying the bacteria into the air, allowing people to inhale them deep into their lungs. Symptoms of illness caused by the bacteria include tiredness, a persistent, dry cough, shortness of breath and weakness. The infection can be treated with antibiotics.
Pace is quick to point out that the bacteria -- which he found only in homes served by public water supplies, not private wells -- poses little risk to healthy people; only those with compromised immune systems and pregnant women need be even the least bit concerned. The bacteria are impervious to chlorine, so you can't just kill them with bleach; Pace recommends that folks worried about infection replace their shower heads every so often.
Or take baths instead. The rise in m. avium infections may be due to people's taking more showers than baths these days, Pace notes.
Does this kind of news worry you? Or just kind of gross you out?
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