Your Showerhead May Be Bathing You in Risky Germs

WEDNESDAY, Nov. 7, 2018 (HealthDay News) — You no doubt think that stepping into your shower will wash away dirt and germs, but a new study shows your showerhead might instead dump nasty bacteria on you that may cause lung infections.

Most people know to keep their bathrooms clean, especially the toilet and sink. But researchers discovered that places in the United States and Europe where germs called mycobacteria are found in abundance in showerheads are the same places where bacterial lung infections are most common. In America, that includes parts of Southern California, Florida and New York.

“We live in a world covered in bacteria, and the bacteria in our showerheads follow some interesting geographic trends, and can be altered by our water source and water chemistry,” said study lead author Matthew Gebert.

“We’re exposed to microbes constantly in our day-to-day lives, some beneficial, some innocuous and a few potentially harmful,” Gebert explained.

He’s a research associate at the University of Colorado’s Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences.

Bacteria thrive in showerheads and water distribution systems. Although most of these bacteria are harmless, some can cause lung infections, he said.

Still, just because mycobacteria live in your showerhead doesn’t mean you’ll get sick or are more likely to get a respiratory infection, Gebert added.

In fact, researchers can’t say that a person with a respiratory infection got it through showering, but understanding the sources of mycobacterial exposure is important.

“We don’t want people rushing home and throwing away their showerheads or obsessively cleaning them every day, nor should anyone change their showering habits — swallowing the water is OK,” he said.

For the study, Gebert and his colleagues analyzed showerheads from homes around the United States and Europe, and found an abundance of bacteria. The kind of germs varied by location, and by the chemistry of the water and where it came from.

An interesting finding was that homes whose water was treated with chlorine disinfectants had high concentrations of certain germs, the researchers noted.

The study was published recently in the journal mBio.

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