Did Your Morning Shower Spray You With Bacteria?

By Eliza Strickland | September 15, 2009 10:02 am

showerheadBreaking news from the “Great–one more thing to worry about” file! Microbiologists have looked inside showerheads and found that the dark and damp crannies provide perfect conditions for the growth of bacterial film. A new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences looked at showerheads in nine cities and found that they harbor colonies of Mycobacterium avium in particular, a type of microbe that can cause lung ailments. “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 lead author Norman Pace [CNET].

These findings may sound alarming, but the researchers stress that bacteria is everywhere–in the air we breathe and the water we drink–and for the most part, these microbes pose little danger. Study coauthor Leah Feazel says of the shower findings: “This really shouldn’t concern average, healthy people. The main concern is for people who are immune-compromised” [Reuters]. People with AIDS or other immune system disorders should consider getting metal showerheads, which harbor less bacteria than plastic, and changing them often. Anybody else who feels uncomfortable with the idea of a bacterial shower has a couple of options–they can let the shower run for 30 seconds or so before stepping in to flush out some of the microbes, or they can take a bath.

Related Content:
80beats: Your Belly Button Is a Lush Oasis for Bacteria, and That’s a Good Thing
80beats: Researchers Find a Unique Bacterial Ecosystem—In Your Mouth
80beats: Whoops! Anti-Bacterial Wipes Can Spread Disease

Image: flickr / stevendepolo

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine
MORE ABOUT: bacteria, immune system
  • MartyM

    We contain a layer of bacteria on our skin. It protects our skin from sun and other electromagnetic damage and is required to sustain life.

  • Matt T

    @ MartyM: WHAT?!? “…other electromagnetic damage..”? Surely you have some factoid to support your claim.

  • maddox22

    Cue profiteers selling antibacterial showerheads and “all-natural” shower protection products in 3…2…1…

  • Chrysoprase

    I can see the concern for immune-compromised people, but when it comes to exposure to common bacteria I follow the George Carlin school of thought: You have an immune system for a reason, and it needs practice!

  • http://clubneko.net/ nick

    Also, I’d like to point out that not many people get in the shower and then turn it on, to get a facefull of shockingly cold water. At least, I never have. I always let the water warm up.

    Also, uh, you remember our domestic water supply is chlorinated to prevent microbial growth in water towers and the municipal supply, though I guess they would have cultured the water that came out of the showerhead, to see how long that first splash of bacteria will live after the water hits it?

  • Frank

    I grew up with the filthy Dupage river running thru my backyard. It froze just once in the 18 years I lived there. Our well water had a degree of seepage from the river, our shower stunk. We also swam, played, and canoed in the river(despite my poor ma’s admonitions). I am 39 now and I’ve never had an ear infection or stomach flu. I catch a cold every few years, and usually a mild one at that. I think it’s the constant exposure to pathogens that amped up my immunities.

    Maddox, for the low price of 100 dollars, I will sell you a gallon of the tonic that flowed behind my house! Act now and receive an additional gallon, free!….

  • Jays

    Seems to me one should avoid aerating shower heads that make a lot of unnecessary steam. It is what one breaths in, says the study, not the stuff that lands on your skin that causes the trouble. Correct? Also, if there is cotaminated air in the bathroom the aerator would suck it in, thus increasing the problem. Correct?

  • Jason

    Mycobaterium sp. have a waxy, “hard” cell wall. The amount of chlorine in our tap water, usually around 4 ppm, will not kill them off. For some mycobacterium it takes up to 10,000 ppm chlorine to eradicate them. The best thing for killing them off is to dry them out. A spritz of rubbing alcohol will desiccate them. Of course, this won’t help with the water that is in our tap. Additionally, other than Mycobacterium tuberculosis, most find our bodies too warm to live in. If we do get an infection, it is in our extremities where the temp is lower. Again, it’s important to know that we come into contact with these bacterium virtually all the time. In the air, the soil, and in bodies of water.

  • Wallace

    How scientific is a report that makes conclusions from such a small sample?

  • Jockaira

    This is a really easy one to handle…

    Get an all-metal shower head. On a regular basis, every week or two, take it off, throw it into a pot of water, boil for 20 minutes, and put it back after running fresh water through the unheaded fixture. This will kill all the bacteria in the unit and break up any “slime-film.”

    If this doesn’t eliminate all the mycobacteria in the unit, it will certainly get the population down to a level that offers no significant danger of infection.

  • http://youtube jaclyn

    that is crazy!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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