Monsters in your shower: UT researcher says showerheads can be hotbeds of germs

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Photo Credit: Ella Williams | Daily Texan Staff

You are about to take a warm and refreshing shower. You step in thinking of how you can finally get clean, but you may actually be entering a shower of germs.

Eric Cambronne, associate professor of instruction in the biology instructional office, said that showerheads can be a breeding ground for bacteria.

Toilets, shower floors and sinks are frequently thought of as being the dirtiest parts of a bathroom, and as a result, get the most attention during cleaning. But really, people should be shining their showerheads.

Jonathan Randall, a finance junior, said he focuses on cleaning the mirror and sink area and neglects the shower.

While the toilet and sink are germ-laden, it may be worth reconsidering what areas are targeted while cleaning. Some surfaces are not necessarily that dirty, Cambronne said.

“Areas such as a countertop, door or toilet handle that come in frequent contact have very little bacteria,” Cambronne said. “A lot of bacterial colonization in these areas get destroyed because of the constant (human) contact and friction that occur there.”

It’s the spots that are not cleaned and are generally left alone that are dangerous, Cambronne added.

“Showerheads are a culprit, and biofilms can develop there,” Cambronne said.

According to a Nature article, biofilms are slimy, infectious matrices made up of microorganisms.

“(Biofilms) produce compounds to stick to the surface,” Cambronne said. “They also produce a protective barrier. (This barrier) protects the biofilms from outside influences.”

To be considered dangerous to humans, however, the bacteria inhabiting biofilms have to be able to cause disease, Cambronne added. One disease-causing bacterial species which has specifically been found to inhabit showerheads is Mycobacterium avium, according to PubMed Central.

Cambronne said that Mycobacterium avium can cause severe lung issues. Still, getting infected from a shower is probably an extreme event. For bacteria from a showerhead to infect you, there has to be a perfect storm of events, Cambronne explained.

“The biofilms on the showerheads would have to contain large amounts bacteria,” Cambronne said. “There would also have to be aerosols, (a method of transmission) such as the mist from the shower spray, which would allow the bacteria to move from the showerhead to the human and be inhaled.”

Even then, the bacteria would have to beat your immune system before causing problems, Cambronne added.

Next time you clean your bathroom, be sure to scrub for the monster-like microorganisms in your shower.

Editor's note: This article previously said Cambronne was an assistant professor of instruction. These statements are incorrect. Cambronne is an associate professor of instruction. The Texan regrets this error.