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Legionnaires' disease lingers in shower, other home water sources, study says

By
Tauren Dyson
Researchers studied the spread of Legionnaires' disease through water spray from sinks, showers and toilets. Photo by Wollertz/Shutterstock
Researchers studied the spread of Legionnaires' disease through water spray from sinks, showers and toilets. Photo by Wollertz/Shutterstock

Jan. 16 (UPI) -- If you take a shower, you risk contracting a deadly disease, according to a recent study.

Researchers studied the spread of Legionnaires' disease through water spray from sinks, showers and toilets, according to research published January in Environmental Science & Technology.

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"Most people in the United States think we have a handle on our water quality problems and drinking water isn't something we need to worry about anymore. If anything, the recent water crisis in Flint, Michigan, and frequent Legionnaires' disease outbreaks across the nation have demonstrated that's not the case," said Kerry Hamilton, an assistant professor at Arizona State University and study lead author, in a news release.

Legionnaires' disease is a pneumonia-like condition caused by a bacteria called Legionella. While many consider it a waterborne disease, Legionnaires' disease actually spreads through inhalation or aspiration. This is why researchers analyzed environments where people inhaled water from the air.

"To protect people from infections, we first need to understand the risks," Hamilton said. "If we can better model and predict how water quality degrades under different circumstances, we can more efficiently target resources and prevent disease outbreaks."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only 6,100 cases of Legionnaires' disease were reported in the U.S. in 2016. But many incidences likely go undiagnosed, the CDC said.

This is important because one in 10 people infected with Legionnaires' disease dies from the condition.

Since the Environmental Protection Agency doesn't inspect homes, the research study of airborne infections from water sources remains limited.

What experts do know is that Legionnaires' disease is most likely to dwell into stagnate water supplies, like in vacation homes.

The research focuses on Legionnaires' disease but paved the way for future research on other airborne infections.

"There are many guidelines in the literature about how to create a 'cutoff' value, but none are based on technical reasoning," Hamilton said. "Most of the guidelines are based on what people are doing in practice. Our research simulates an appropriate concentration limit based on a risk level that is consistent with other water quality policies in order to give better guidance for monitoring water quality in buildings."

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