Group Shower!

Leah Hendrie (5 PM Micro) thinks that taking a shower can be a really, really bad idea, and found an article from the New York Times to help support her case. Before everyone switches to hot baths, which likely have their own set of dangers, look for Leah’s suggestions as to how to prevent infectious disease transmission in the shower.

Almost everyone that is told that they consume over a million bacteria each day is surprised and distraught over the number, but the number of bacteria that we consume daily only continues to grow. Not only are bacteria inhaled with each breath taken or each glass of tap water drank, but bacteria also hit your face and flow into your lungs each and every time you shower!

Recently, showers in New York were studied and tested for the presence of bacteria coming out of the shower head, and the results were alarming. These NY showers carried a high dose of Mycobacterium avium, which we learned is a microbe related to tuberculosis (TB). These bacteria, along with similar bacteria of the same family, can cause a wide variety of symptoms. The most common symptoms are difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, chest cough, and fatigue.

The scientists who completed the research of the creatures behind the shower curtain were led by Dr. Norman R. Pace, in conjunction with the University of Colorado. They began their research measuring microbes in the everyday indoor human environment, and were led to the study of shower water. This was because the bacteria in showers incorporates into small droplets that are commonly breathed deep into a person’s lungs.

To test the bacteria associated with shower water, the bacteria need to be grown on cultures in the laboratory, which we are also very familiar and experienced with! The problem with this is that a majority of the species cannot be grown in the lab, and this causes more than half of the bacterial species to be missed. For this reason, Dr. Pace chose to directly examine and observe the genetic material, which eliminated the need to grow and culture the bacteria. So far, Dr. Pace has turned up over 15 different kinds of bacteria in showers nationwide. These results were explained in an issue of The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Although the idea of being drenched by thousands of bacteria is unsettling to many, the shower presents no serious dangers, with the possible exception of the M. avium, which is most likely to only often individuals whose immune systems are somehow suppressed or compromised.

Dr. Pace explains that there are numerous ways to help lessen the chance to have a daily run-in with these unwanted bacteria, and they are as follows:

  • Run the water for 30 seconds before stepping into the shower
  • Install a metal shower head as opposed to a plastic one
  • Choose to receive water from a city water supply versus a municipal water supply, if possible

Although these are not surefire ways to guarantee the elimination of the bacteria, they can help to lessen the number of bacteria that are present, and therefore minimize its unlikely but possible negative effects.

Dr. Pace reported that he was still showering daily, and felt that his daily shower was no more dangerous than getting out of bed in the morning. He explained, “the yuck factor isn’t nearly as great as people may think it is.” But after completing his research, Dr. Pace did admit to throwing away his plastic shower head and replacing it with a new metal one.


About ycpmicro

My name is David Singleton, and I am an Associate Professor of Microbiology at York College of Pennsylvania. My main course is BIO230, a course taken by allied-health students at YCP. Views on this site are my own.

Posted on December 1, 2011, in Danger danger danger!, Guest Post. Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Group Shower!.

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