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Medicine Idle Science

Taking Showers Can Be Harmful To Your Health 431

Posted by timothy
from the healthiest-guy-alive dept.
TheClockworkSoul writes "According to both the BBC and NewScientist, showering may be bad for your health. Apparently, dirty shower heads can be an ideal breeding ground for Mycobacterium avium, a bug responsible for a type of pulmonary disease more prevalent than tuberculosis in developed countries, cases of which have risen in parallel with the rise in showering. Tests revealed nearly a third of devices harbor significant levels of the critter."
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Taking Showers Can Be Harmful To Your Health

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  • does CLR kill it? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by yincrash (854885) on Tuesday September 15, 2009 @10:38AM (#29427037)
    they keep dipping the shower heads in that stuff and it's magically shiny! maybe it'll kill bugs too?
    • Re:does CLR kill it? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by joaommp (685612) on Tuesday September 15, 2009 @10:40AM (#29427065) Homepage Journal

      tinfoil hat warning: this is just a new conspiracy from bathtub makers and water suppliers to make us take immersion baths.

      • by timeOday (582209) on Tuesday September 15, 2009 @12:07PM (#29428297)

        Jerry: Hey, you're not giving it to me, man. What's wrong?

        Kramer: I just took a bath, Jerry. A bath?

        Jerry: No good?

        Kramer: It's disgusting. I'm sitting there in a tepid pool of my own filth.

        All kinds of microscopic parasites and organisms having sex all around me.

        http://www.seinfeldscripts.com/TheShowerhead.htm [seinfeldscripts.com]

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by Jurily (900488)

          On the other hand, it kinda defeats the purpose of taking a shower to use a dirty shower head. Except if you take someone else there with you.

          • Re:does CLR kill it? (Score:5, Informative)

            by DJRumpy (1345787) on Tuesday September 15, 2009 @09:30PM (#29435181)
            The second link indicates the risk is greatly reduced if you just let the water run for 60 seconds before getting in. I would think that practice is actually more common than not as most folks don't jump into a cold shower. I do often step into the shower stall itself and wait while the water gets warm, but the article also warns against that as well. The reason being the atomized water with high concentrations of bacteria are easily breathed in during that initial blast of water and air even if you are not directly under the flow of water.

            In any case, a simple change of habit to simply turn the water on and wait outside of the shower stall for 60 seconds.
        • by severoon (536737) on Tuesday September 15, 2009 @02:20PM (#29429927) Journal

          This problem of the dirty shower head is easily solved by my approach. Instead of hooking up to a city water tap, I just had a giant tank of bactine installed that I use instead. Best part: no soap required, just a wire brush and a brillo pad and you're in and out as fast as you can say, Where'd all my skin go?

    • by Red Flayer (890720) on Tuesday September 15, 2009 @10:46AM (#29427165) Journal
      Why bother with CLR? That's a lot of effort to keep your showerheads clean and safe.

      What I've done to protect myself against this terrifying bacteria is to actively encourage the growth of black mold in my shower, which suppresses bacteria growth.

      This has a lot of benefits:

      1. Chinks in the grout between tiles are filled automagically with an attractive black growth.
      2. I never have to clean hard-to-reach areas, since this is where the mold grows best.
      3. My shower is now cute and cuddly due to the "furry" coating on exposed surfaces. It's like a panda bear, except without the bamboo and pointy teeth!
      • by Shakrai (717556)

        You must be single. Back in the day I had to choose between my friends in the shower or my ability to keep getting laid. It wasn't a hard decision ;)

      • by furby076 (1461805) on Tuesday September 15, 2009 @11:06AM (#29427443) Homepage
        See you simply don't care to keep yourself or your family healthy. I change my shower heads, shower pipes, tile, grout, and wetboard once/week. The bathroom manufacturers who came out with this study....err who have HEARD of this study think it is a good idea.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by palegray.net (1195047)
      I just take the old-fashioned approach of thoroughly cleaning my shower from overhead to deck. Oh, wait... that's the Navy approach ;). I guess some habits are worth something.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 15, 2009 @11:02AM (#29427375)

      Friends don't let friends use the CLR, excessive usage can leave you infected with Mono!

  • Sensationalism (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 15, 2009 @10:38AM (#29427047)

    Taking showers 'can make you ill'
    Showering may be bad for your health, say US scientists

    OMG! OMG! Wait, the article goes on to say:

    "These bacteria [â¦] rarely cause disease in healthy people. Further work will need to look at whether finding these organisms is associated with any increased risk of infection."

    Thanks, BBC.

  • Kohler? Seems kind of wasteful to say "through it away" rather than clean it...
  • by Moraelin (679338) on Tuesday September 15, 2009 @10:39AM (#29427057) Journal

    I guess a couple of co-workers are actually just taking good care of their health. I'm pretty sure one of them doesn't come anywhere near this bacterium more than twice a year.

  • by arhhook (995275) on Tuesday September 15, 2009 @10:39AM (#29427061)

    Secretly, some geeks knew this all along, hiding from the masses the real reasons they didn't shower. Now their cover is blown!

  • oh great (Score:4, Funny)

    by sxedog (824351) on Tuesday September 15, 2009 @10:40AM (#29427067)
    now there will be more smelly IT nerds walking around. Wait.... nevermind
  • by StarKruzr (74642) on Tuesday September 15, 2009 @10:40AM (#29427071) Journal

    Creation of showerhead disinfection industry in 3...2...1...

  • by oldspewey (1303305) on Tuesday September 15, 2009 @10:40AM (#29427077)
    Finally the medical community is backing my position on showers ... and I know it's just a matter of time before some new study proves I'm right about the Doritos and climbing the basement stairs.
    • by Yvan256 (722131)

      A new study today found that eating two large bags of Doritos a day increases the profits of Frito-Lay.

  • hmmm (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Rip Dick (1207150) on Tuesday September 15, 2009 @10:40AM (#29427085)
    I know most people, myself included, run the water for a minute or two before stepping into the shower. (Due to the time it takes for the water to heat up, etc.) Would this help avoid getting sprayed with a build up of bacteria or is the stream of germs constant? Also, hot water + soap + friction can kill a lot of germs, wouldn't the fact that you're already showering help the situation?
    • Re:hmmm (Score:5, Informative)

      by Red Flayer (890720) on Tuesday September 15, 2009 @10:43AM (#29427115) Journal

      Also, hot water + soap + friction can kill a lot of germs, wouldn't the fact that you're already showering help the situation?

      That doesn't kill germs. It just helps remove them from your skin.

      Besides the concern for pulmonary disease is that you inhale water droplets with these germs inside them. I highly doubt that you use soap + hot water + friction inside your lungs (but if you do, you're more of a man than I).

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Hal_Porter (817932)

        I highly doubt that you use soap + hot water + friction inside your lungs (but if you do, you're more of a man than I).

        Weed kills these bugs and prevents lung cancer. I read it on www.good-skunk-is-a-humanright.co.uk

    • Re:hmmm (Score:5, Insightful)

      by mea37 (1201159) on Tuesday September 15, 2009 @10:48AM (#29427193)

      From the (somewhat incomplete) information in TFA, I think you're right that running the water before stepping in helps. Not sure about whether the fact you're taking a shower at the time matters, as the concern is inhaled bacteria.

      It also seems that metal shower heads are not as bad as plastic.

      Oh, and the bacteria in question are opportunistic - healthy people rarely get sick from them. So maybe it makes sense to give small children more baths than showers (which is what my family always did when I was growing up anyway); to consider taking baths when sick; and to consider what this implies for care of the elderly.

      Other than that, this just seems a bit over-hyped. (Not seeing what the comparison to TB adds to the story beyond sensationalism, for example.)

      • by geekoid (135745)

        err, not always :
        "Showers have also been identified as a route for spreading other infectious diseases, including a type of pneumonia called Legionnaires' disease and chest infections with a bacterium called Pseudomonas aeruginosa."

        However the headline should be:

        "Showering with dirty shower heads may be bad for your health."

      • by LWATCDR (28044)

        Probably removing and dipping the shower head in some bleach every now and then will also help.

      • Oligodynamic effect (Score:5, Informative)

        by emil (695) on Tuesday September 15, 2009 @11:55AM (#29428143) Homepage
        Metal shower heads are most likely safer due to the Oligodynamic effect [wikipedia.org].
    • by furby076 (1461805)
      If the water were hot enough to kill the germs you would be screaming like Jamie "The Scream Queen" Lee Curtis. Then you would be hospitalized.
  • by CmdrPorno (115048) on Tuesday September 15, 2009 @10:44AM (#29427131)

    Germs are EVERYWHERE. Hospitals do all kinds of disinfection that you wouldn't and couldn't do in your own home, and people still get staph infections.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      Germs are EVERYWHERE. Hospitals do all kinds of disinfection that you wouldn't and couldn't do in your own home, and people still get staph infections.

      While true there are germs everywhere, this is actually a tad more than nothing. First, this isn't a generic brand germ, it's a pretty well-known lung pathogen (a weakling cousin of TB, actually). Second, it seems to like forming biofilms inside shower heads, so the water that comes out has two orders of magnitude more critters than your average point in "everywhere".

    • by CAIMLAS (41445)

      Many hospital staph infections are due to the over-sanitation of surfaces. Bacteria will become largely immune to many disinfectants and become "super bugs"; additionally, it will latch onto the hosts due to it being a much more receptive surface than something which has been disinfected.

      • by level_headed_midwest (888889) on Tuesday September 15, 2009 @11:44AM (#29427995)

        Not true. You're thinking of antibiotic resistance. Disinfectants usually physically break apart the bacteria and the common methods of antibiotic resistance don't protect against this. The main cause of staph infections is by people not washing their hands.

    • by MozeeToby (1163751) on Tuesday September 15, 2009 @11:22AM (#29427701)

      Arguably people get staph infections in hospitals because hospitals put so much effort into sterilizing every little thing. It leaves the hardiest, and fastest spreading bacteria and viruses to fill the vacuum rather than the millions of common germs that our body knows how to deal with. They've done studies which show a less rigorous sterilization regiment can actually reduce the rate of infections but the whole 'germs are evil' mindset prevents hospitals from actually changing their behavior.

      • by the_humeister (922869) on Tuesday September 15, 2009 @11:33AM (#29427855)

        It's not because the hospitals are sterilizing. It's because people keep using antibiotics for things that are unnecessary that selects for antibiotic resistant bacteria such as MRSA. If and when vancomycin resistant Staph. becomes prevalent (I'm aware of 3 documented cases so far), we're in deep shit.

        • by CodeBuster (516420) on Tuesday September 15, 2009 @01:05PM (#29429005)

          If and when vancomycin resistant Staph. becomes prevalent (I'm aware of 3 documented cases so far), we're in deep shit.

          Note quite. There is still Linezolid [wikipedia.org] and when that becomes less effective there are several other Oxazolidones [wikipedia.org] in the drug pipeline. Of course Linezolid is crazy expensive right now, being as it is under patent protection, but that is actually a good thing because it discourages frivolous uses such as anti-bacterial hand soap or animal feed. A few thousand dollars is worthwhile if it saves a life, but not for non-life threatening uses.

          • by Rich0 (548339) on Tuesday September 15, 2009 @02:14PM (#29429877) Homepage

            In fact, this showcases why it is that little R&D takes place for antibiotics - there isn't much money in them, and when you do come out with one you need to charge obscene rates to make a profit.

            The fact is that 95% of people who get bacterial infections will do just fine with pennicilian. 95% of the rest will do just fine with one of a few other super-cheap antibiotics. The only people who need the really exotic stuff are people with really exotic problems. However, there aren't enough of them to pay for making new exotic stuff.

            I think that antibiotics are one of those areas where the NIH should probably just contract the development of new classes of treatments. They could place an order for a new drug just like the Air Force places an order for a new plane. Sure, it would be pricey, but it is probably the only way it will happen. Actually - it probably shouldn't even be the NIH, but rather a coalition of first-world governments. The government might license it royalty free to anybody who paid in to the development, and to third world nations.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by kimvette (919543)

        "hospitals put so much effort into sterilizing every little thing."

        Well if they stop doing that, how can they justify $50 bedpans, $50 toothbrushes, $50 puke buckets, and so forth? If it's just something you can pick up at the dollar store, then insurance companies will insist that is where the hospitals source them from.

        It's far more profitable to go through the motions and appear to be safe, even though we're making humanity more fragile and the germs stronger in the process.

        And another thing (related): w

      • by ari_j (90255) on Tuesday September 15, 2009 @12:40PM (#29428739)
        Every time someone mistakenly adds the t to sterilization regimen, I picture the US Cavalry riding at breakneck speeds toward me with giant alcohol swabs.
      • by Valdrax (32670) on Tuesday September 15, 2009 @02:05PM (#29429773)

        Arguably people get staph infections in hospitals because hospitals put so much effort into sterilizing every little thing. It leaves the hardiest, and fastest spreading bacteria and viruses to fill the vacuum rather than the millions of common germs that our body knows how to deal with.

        Actually, "hardiest" and "fastest-spreading" are generally mutually opposed. Most mutations to develop antibiotic resistance are costly and inefficient compared to non-resistance. This is why these traits, which spontaneously appear in the population from time to time, do not become dominant without the use of antibiotics or other outside pressures to cull the herd in favor of resistance.

        However, you are right in some contexts. Some genes for resistance to antibiotics also aid in resistance to certain disinfectants.

        "Compounds such as household disinfectants and other antibacterial agents can also select for antibiotic resistance. Triclosan and pine oil, which are widely used in home cleaning products are able to select for multidrug-resistant mutants, either by mutation in the target genes or in the regulatory mar system, providing a pleiotropic resistance to disinfectants, multiple structurally unrelated antibiotics, organic solvents and oxidative stress agents. Constitutive expression of an MDR efflux pump which confers resistance to triclosan is also reported in P. aeruginosa. Given the increased use of these agents in households, one can imagine dramatic changes in the environmental flora that impact antibiotic resistance."

        -- TM Barbosa, SB Levy. The impact of antibiotic use on resistance development and persistence. Drug Resist Update. 2000;3:303-11. [asu.edu]

    • by couchslug (175151) on Tuesday September 15, 2009 @02:09PM (#29429821)

      "Hospitals do all kinds of disinfection that you wouldn't and couldn't do in your own home, and people still get staph infections."

      They also ignore and omit proper precautions, even those as basic as a physician washing his hands between touching patients.

      We lose more people to MRSA in the US than we do to murder and the WoT, but it doesn't make much news for some reason...

  • For geeks in general?

    Not from where I sit (downwind).

  • I read this blog yesterday on physorg.com and I can tell you straight up that the title here on slashdot is very misleading.

    It sounds a little too exaggerated.

  • my shower head needs a shower.
  • Dear Slashdotters (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mewsenews (251487) on Tuesday September 15, 2009 @10:58AM (#29427323) Homepage

    This article does NOT mean you have an excuse to cease bathing.

    This article also does not provide justification for the cessation of: tooth brushing, hair cutting, shaving, fingernail clipping, or deodorant usage.

    Regards,
    Society

  • by hellfire (86129) <(deviladv) (at) (gmail.com)> on Tuesday September 15, 2009 @11:02AM (#29427389) Homepage

    I have so many questions that this article doesn't answer.

    1) Where was the sample taken? UK showers? World wide? Third world countries?
    2) Is there an information on different kinds of shower heads? for example, is this more common on massaging heads, low flow/high pressure heads, etc?
    3) Does hot water kill this bacteria? Is it more common for people who take colder showers than people who take hot ones?
    4) I always start the shower first before getting under it, since it takes about 5+ seconds to warm up... any ideas if this affects infection? (Thats more of a study question than a question from the article).
    5) Any real way to prevent the growth? Someone already asked if CLR kills it. If this is so common, mind telling me how I can help myself?

    I've never read a BBC article that left me with more questions.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by cratermoon (765155)
      Pretty sure I read that this study was funded buy an industry group representing companies that, among other things, make shower heads and home plumbing fixtures. As for your 3rd question, "Does hot water kill this bacteria?", any water hot enough to kill bacteria would badly scald a person instantly.
  • in a tub of Clorox. Pretty much guaranteed not to find any bacteria in there :P
  • Between red wine for the health of it and no showers no wonder the worlds oldest person in recent history was that 121 year old French woman.
  • Then you tell me that?! *cough*
  • is an entirely new shower head design which incorporates a Venturi tube drawing from an antibacterial cleanser reservoir. Clean and decontaminate without having to store bottles / bars within the stall. As an added bonus, if you formulated the cleanser correctly it could also act as a hands-free shower stall cleaner.
  • by CAIMLAS (41445) on Tuesday September 15, 2009 @11:14AM (#29427563) Homepage

    Not to be stereotypical here but I don't shower regularly right now, on account of the whole "unemployed, no need to interact with people right now" part of my life.

    After a couple "cycles" of only showering once every other/third day, my body acclimated to the different bathing. I found/find that my skin is, overall, much clearer (lifelong acme sufferer) as well as substantially less oily. I no longer feel like there's grease in my eyes by the time I go to bed, and my skin feels 'healthier'.

    I wonder if routine shower cleaning would help fix the problem? I'd think that the chlorine in the water would help dissuade bacteria from growing. I wonder if that 1/3rd can be accounted for by low chlorine levels, or well water? We have non-chlorinated well water here, as do both my parents and grandmother, all in different parts of the country.

  • For those craving details, the original article can be found here [pnas.org].

    Here's a copy of the abstract, for my fellow bio nerds:

    The environments we humans encounter daily are sources of exposure to diverse microbial communities, some of potential concern to human health. In this study, we used culture-independent technology to investigate the microbial composition of biofilms inside showerheads as ecological assemblages in the human indoor environment. Showers are an important interface for human interaction with microbes through inhalation of aerosols, and showerhead waters have been implicated in disease. Although opportunistic pathogens commonly are cultured from shower facilities, there is little knowledge of either their prevalence or the nature of other microorganisms that may be delivered during shower usage. To determine the composition of showerhead biofilms and waters, we analyzed rRNA gene sequences from 45 showerhead sites around the United States. We find that variable and complex, but specific, microbial assemblages occur inside showerheads. Particularly striking was the finding that sequences representative of non-tuberculous mycobacteria (NTM) and other opportunistic human pathogens are enriched to high levels in many showerhead biofilms, >100-fold above background water contents. We conclude that showerheads may present a significant potential exposure to aerosolized microbes, including documented opportunistic pathogens. The health risk associated with showerhead microbiota needs investigation in persons with compromised immune or pulmonary systems.

  • CU Boulder (Score:5, Funny)

    by pete-classic (75983) <hutnick@gmail.com> on Tuesday September 15, 2009 @11:18AM (#29427653) Homepage Journal

    This is all based on a study out of CU Boulder. As a Denver resident, I can attest that the dirty hippies at CU Boulder are on a never-ending quest to justify their poor hygiene. Don't be fooled! Shower every day!

    -Peter

  • Just remove the shower head, and let it dry. Then, into the pipe end pour some cherry kool-aid powder.

  • by wsanders (114993) on Tuesday September 15, 2009 @11:21AM (#29427693) Homepage

    I declare this a victory for Open Source. Now - on to making beards, sandals with black socks, and red suspenders fashionable again!

  • by JamJam (785046) on Tuesday September 15, 2009 @12:17PM (#29428435)
    There's also talk of health risks due to taking hot showers. Supposedly that releases chlorine and chloroform gas creating a health risk, particularly for those with asthma. I guess that's why there are chlorine filters [articlealley.com] for shower heads. Then again a filter would likely be a breading ground for bacteria so pick your poison...
  • by jcr (53032) <jcr.mac@com> on Tuesday September 15, 2009 @12:33PM (#29428651) Journal

    Disinfecting a shower head is trivial. Pour some bleach in a bag, with enough water to immerse the shower head, put the shower head in the bag, use a twist-tie to hold it in place for a couple of minutes.

    -jcr

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