CHICAGO — If your morning shower doesn’t wake you up, this sure might: Dangerous bacteria may be spraying out of your showerhead, right into your face, according to a new study.

Healthy people probably don’t need to worry. But the opportunistic microbes, which thrive in the most, dark and wet environment of a showerhead, might cause problems if you’re pregnant, a substance abuser or otherwise immune compromised with cystic fibrosis, cancer, AIDS or a recent organ transplant, the researchers said in the findings published in this month’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The main culprit is an organism called Mycobacterium avium, a relative of the bacteria that causes tuberculosis. M. avium infections are increasingly common, perhaps because we take more showers than baths. Unlike baths, showerheads deliver the microorganisms as aerosolized particles that are small enough to be inhaled into the lungs.

The research team from the University of Colorado, which previously warned us that M. avium was lurking in the soap scum on vinyl shower curtains, sampled 45 showerheads in homes, apartments and public places around the country. They found that the showerheads don’t just harbor the potentially infectious microbes; they enrich their growth.

Unfortunately, showerheads have nooks and crannies that make them hard to clean. Products with bleach can temporarily remove many microbes, but they just grow back. An all-metal showerhead, which microbes have a hard time grabbing, might be a good option if you’re immune compromised, the researchers said.

Filtered showerheads could be replaced weekly. Or try bathing, which won’t splash microbes into the air as much as showers.

By Julia Deardorff

Chicago Tribune