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Did You Know Your Shower Can Make You Sick??

April 16, 2010 · 16 comments

in Health & Fitness, Home & Garden

I love a shower first thing in the morning.  Actually, I don’t even feel like myself until I have had my shower.  What I didn’t know until recently is that my shower head may essentially be a petri dish of bad bacteria.

So what happens is this:  The shower runs everyday and slime builds up inside the shower head.  Bacteria naturally forms and this little coating of slime/biofilm protects the bacteria from the chlorine in the water.  Then, you turn on the shower, and all these little bacteria get sprayed all over you.  Sounds fun, right?

The worst part is, this bacteria is not the friendly, nice bacteria like what you find in yogurt.  Some are really bad bacteria.   A study was done in 2009 and found that 30 percent of shower heads had a really nasty bacteria called Mycobacterium avium, which is an organism in the same family as TB, but is not contagious.  If you are a healthy person, you probably have nothing to worry about as your immune system will most likely just fight these bacteria off.  However, if you are immune suppressed, pregnant or have chronic lung problems, you could be at risk.  Symptoms of  pulmonary illness caused by Mycobacterium Avium vary, but include fatigue, a persistent, dry cough, shortness of breath, weakness and general malaise.  Whereas the symptoms do not sound very serious at first glance, the disease is serious, and can be life-threatening.

So, you may wonder, what can you do about it?   There are conflicting reports about cleaning the shower heads.  One study showed that bleach initially killed the bacteria, but then they eventually came back, stronger than ever.  So, I cannot say that cleaning the shower head is a long-term solution.    Since plastic shower heads were found to harbor much more bacteria than metal, it would be best to toss that plastic shower head.  The ideal shower head is metal and has an easily changeable filter.  (The filter would actually have to be changed on a regular basis though…)   For those at risk, it is recommended to change your shower head every 6 months if it does not have the replaceable filter.  An additional option is to leave the room for a minute or so after you turn on the water since most the bacteria is released in the first minute of the shower running.

So, have a good weekend.  I know what my husband will be doing on Saturday…  🙂

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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Vicky April 16, 2010 at 4:09 pm

I heard about this a couple months ago and checked my shower head. It had black stuff on it. We immediately changed it to this piece of crap my husband bought. Still need to change it, but for now, at least it’s clean and bacteria free! Thanks for the article. Hopefully everyone checks or changes their shower head.

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Kris April 16, 2010 at 4:20 pm

Vicky, I will follow up soon and see if the ‘crappy’ shower head has been replaced with a beautiful, metal-with-filtration shower head. You know I can nag!!!

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Papa Sez April 16, 2010 at 6:43 pm

Thanks for writing about this issue. It never occurred to me that shower heads should be checked and replaced, but it does make sense.

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Teresa April 19, 2010 at 8:54 am

I have to be on a machine with a long hose that attaches to thingy that goes over my nose and I have to breathe from this machine for hours. This article is good for me because I did not know about this bacteria. My hose has to be rinsed daily. I will be sure to let the water run a bit before rinsing this hose from now on. Thanks for the article.

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Money Reasonsliv April 20, 2010 at 6:33 pm

This is the first I’ve heard of this! Very interesting!

I always wondered about the kind of nasties that live in our plumbing systems, especially the draining system.

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Kris April 20, 2010 at 7:11 pm

Yeah, it isn’t very pleasant to think about. We did replace our shower head this weekend with one that had a replaceable filter. Unfortunately, there aren’t many shower heads that come with a filter.

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Beth April 22, 2010 at 10:32 am

ewwww…I’m changing my shower head this weekend…thanks for grossing me out!

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Alarm System : October 30, 2010 at 12:52 pm

we are always using stainless steel shower heads for our bathroom *

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Adrian Doner November 18, 2010 at 3:40 am

plastic shower heads are cheaper and you can easily install them, they are not as durable as brass showers heads but good enough ;-“

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jon@aquasana aq-4100 shower filter January 5, 2011 at 5:05 pm

Not only will bacteria make you sick but chlorine in the long term is not very healthy. Long term studies have shown that chlorine even in the form of steam can seriously reduce lung capacity. Add common chemicals that are not even tested for you have a toxic mix that is safe to drink but over a period of time could cause health problems down the road.

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Car Negotiation Coach August 13, 2011 at 12:34 pm

Kris, I’m already a germ-a-phobe and now you just scared me into not taking showers, thanks! 🙂

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Kris August 14, 2011 at 11:33 pm

Oh, the shower is just the tip of the iceberg my friend… 🙂

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Hilary August 13, 2013 at 4:52 pm

How interesting! Thanks so much for sharing this! I know that drain cleaning in Denver is really important.

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