When was the last time you cleaned your showerheads? Maybe never? That would be what most of us would say. What you probably don’t realize is that there’s a good chance that, if you haven’t been cleaning them, your showerheads are harboring potentially infectious bacteria and encouraging their growth. Showerheads provide the ideal wet, dark and warm environment for bacteria growth, including Mycobacterium avium, known as “non-tuberculosis mycobacteria”.
Research from the National Academy of Sciences has shown that levels of Mycobacterium avium bacteria are over 100 times higher in pre-shower water. The study evaluated the germs found in the biofilm of 45 showerheads from 9 cities in the United States. Mycobacterium avium infections are becoming increasingly common, possibly because we’re taking more showers during which tiny sprays of aerosolized particles are inhaled into our lungs causing potential health problems in some.
Symptoms of Mycobacterium Avium Infections
Symptoms of health problems caused by Mycobacterium avium are similar to those seen in tuberculosis and other pulmonary diseases. These symptoms include fever, shortness of breath, persistent and/or dry cough, fatigue, abdominal pain, diarrhea and weight loss. In some patient’s neutropenia if bone marrow and anemia are involved. As mentioned above, pulmonary symptoms are similar to tuberculosis, while abdominal pain and diarrhea are related to gastrointestinal involvement. Commons symptoms of Mycobacterium avium infection in children include swollen lymph nodes in the neck.
Are You at Risk?
For most healthy individuals, short-term exposure to bacteria exposures due to untreated showerheads appears to pose no significant health risks, however, the effects of long-term exposure are still unknown. People who are pregnant, substance abusers or suffer from a compromised immune system with AIDS, cancer, fibrosis, or have had a recent organ transplant could be at risk according to research finding that were published by the National Academy of Sciences. Even so, researchers agree additional studies need to be carried out regarding potential health risks. That said, taking preventative measures makes sense – it certainly can’t hurt.
Cleaning Your Showerhead
Taking apart and soaking the various parts in hot, white vinegar (heated in a pot of water) is an effective way to clean metal showerheads. You can also clear grimy, moldy blockage from your showerhead by covering it with a bag of vinegar. All you need to do is to fill the bag with vinegar, position it around the showerhead so that it’s submerged, attaching the bag to it using a twist tie, rubber band, or anything else you have handy that would keep it in place and let it soak overnight. The next morning the showerhead will look nice and clean, the vinegar killing off bacteria.
It’s an alarming thought that most households have showerheads that haven’t been changed or cleaned in decades. While the hazards of Mycobacterium avium and other bacteria related Infections haven’t been proven to have an effect on everyone, changing, or at least cleaning your showerhead two to four times a year makes sense. If your showerheads are plastic, switching to metal can help reduce the buildup of bacteria (plastic accumulates biofilm faster than metal).