Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Taking a Shower Can Give You Pulmonary Disease

If you look forward to that morning shower to wake you up, a new story shows it can kill you.

Researchers at the University of Colorado at Boulder have published a study finding that about 30 percent of the showerheads in nine cities (including New York, Chicago, and Denver) carry "significant" levels of Mycobacterium avium, a pathogen that is linked to pulmonary disease.

Moreover, the M. avium pathogen was often clumped together with other pathogens in a slimy biofilm that clings to the insides of showerheads at more than 100 times the levels found in municipal water.

"If you are getting a face full of water when you first turn your shower on, that means you are probably getting a particularly high load of Mycobacterium avium, which may not be too healthy," says CU-Boulder Distinguished Professor Norman Pace, lead study author.

In addition, research at Denver's National Jewish Hospital suggests that the increase in pulmonary infections in the US in recent decades may be the result of people taking more showers and fewer baths, Pace says. Even those who are careful never to swallow the water spurting from showerheads can inhale the pathogens, which are distributed from water droplets into the air.

Symptoms of pulmonary disease that has been caused by M. avium can include weakness, shortness of breath, and a persistent, dry cough; obviously the immune-compromised, such as pregnant women and the elderly, are more prone to experience such symptoms, says Pace.

Pace says that people with strong immune systems are probably in very little danger of being compromised, but he suggests that there is a higher risk associated with plastic showerheads than metal ones. And if all that isn't enough to swallow, water monitoring in the US, according to Pace, is "frankly archaic."

This stinky fella might have been on to something.


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