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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?

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  |  September 14, 2009; 3:00 PM ET
Categories:  General Health  
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Well, this worries me. My 8-yr-old has had a lingering dry cough and complained about her breathing for practically all summer; diagnoses have gone between cold and asthma, but nothing so far seems to have worked. And she just started taking showers instead of baths a few months ago. Will have to show this to her doc.

Posted by: laura33 | September 14, 2009 4:19 PM | Report abuse

I believe the article should have had resources better equipped too help the public and give attention too the products and the cost too what is available. Also , should give attention too what the mandatory products such as
"ionic silver shower heads" and how they eliminate the bacteria in the water and enable a virtually pure clean water.

The skin as well as common ailments would be greatly reduced from this product , And should be a common attachment sold with a reasonable price.

Most people cannot afford something with a price tag as such. Some range from 100 too 600 dollars.

Also a public view would take in account of the possible ionic silver conversion for the city water as a possibility.

All Public Water too be filtered in this way would eliminate all these bacteria/pathogens.

Thank you for reading

William B.

Posted by: cleverwise | September 14, 2009 6:05 PM | Report abuse

I've been a full-time hospitalist for the last eight years. I've seen only three cases of Mycobacterium avium in that span - all in well-established cases of AIDS. The general public doesn't have to worry about this issue.---------Steve

Posted by: SteveParkerMD | September 14, 2009 8:36 PM | Report abuse

Here come tons and tons of thrown away shower heads headed for landfills, guess it will help sales at home centers.

Posted by: wvajim | September 15, 2009 12:37 AM | Report abuse

While there may well be truth to this study I find the timing of this story suspect, coming, as it does, after an expose by the NYT on the nightmare of chemical companies dumping death into water systems all over America unhindered.

This school is funded by the National Institute of Health.

Kinda like the slight of hand of directing attention to a minor or non-issue to divert any concerns over the greater danger (like threatening the hillbillies that democrats are gonna take away their bibles or that gays will move next door to you in Omaha).

Yes, let's focus on something that will buy time, something the public can feel guilty about.

Such is the mistrust of what was once our government.

Posted by: mot2win | September 15, 2009 12:39 PM | Report abuse

Please check out for more information about lung disease caused Avium and other nontuberculous mycobacteria. Although medical professionals link NTMs with AIDS patients, there is a lot of NTM lung disease in the US.
Samantha Castronovo
Senior Director of Operations
NTM Info & Research, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization
1550 Madruga Avenue, Suite 230
Coral Gables, Florida 33146

Posted by: samantha4 | September 15, 2009 1:14 PM | Report abuse

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