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What health hazard does our shower heads pose?
Most people shower several times a week to improve their personal hygiene. For many it will be surprising that contaminants in the shower heads can also transmit dangerous bacteria to the users, which can then lead to various diseases.
In their current investigation, the University of Colorado scientists found that people in their showers are sometimes exposed to life-threatening bacteria. The experts published the results of their study in the English-language journal "mBio".
Doctors examined the bacteria in our shower heads
For their study, the researchers examined the bacteria in our shower heads. Most of the microbes are harmless, but there are dangerous exceptions, says study author Noah Fierer of the University of Colorado. The microbes of the genus Mycobacterium were particularly interesting for the experts. This group of bacteria can cause leprosy and tuberculosis, for example. In addition, the bacteria examined included almost 200 other species that are common in our environment. These bacteria occur in the soil, in dust and in tap water. Together they are known as non-tuberculous mycobacteria (NTM). Such bacteria grow in colonies in a slimy, mold-like manner. As a result, NTM could lurk in the dirtiest areas of your bathroom, such as around the edges of the sink and in the shower head.
DNA from 656 showers of biofilm was examined
It is important to understand the ways of mycobacterial exposure, especially in the home, says study author Matt Gebert from the University of Colorado. To do this, the scientists examined the DNA of 656 biofilm samples from household showers and basic water chemistry data for each source. As they suspected, there was no shortage of NTM in their analysis, although there were large differences depending on the region in which the samples were collected and the water sources used.
Genus Mycobacterium was most frequently found
The analyzes showed that the genus Mycobacterium was consistently the most frequently occurring genus of bacteria, which were discovered in the shower heads of residential buildings. Mycobacteria were more common in US households than in European households. The experts suspect that this is due to differences in the chemicals used to purify the water. Chlorine is used more often in the United States, but NTMs tend to become resistant to this type of disinfectant.
Metal shower heads were more contaminated
Strangely, there were more NTMs in metal shower heads, while there was a more diverse microbiome in plastic shower heads. This may be due to chemicals in plastic that keep the mycobacteria at bay, the researchers explain. The team discovered that in regions in the United States where NTM lung disease was most common, the microbiomes in shower heads also housed more NTM. For now, however, the team's results show only a correlation and no causal link. Further investigations now have to deal with this topic. (as)