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Most of the water samples came from municipal water systems in cities such as New York and Denver, but the team also looked at showerheads in four rural homes supplied by private wells. No M. avium were found in those showerheads, though some other bacteria were.
In previous work, the same research team has found M. avium in soap scum on vinyl shower curtains and above the water surface of warm therapy pools.
And stay tuned. Other studies under way by Pace's team include analyses of air in New York subways, hospital waiting rooms, office buildings and homeless shelters.
The research was funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health.
Virginia Tech microbiologist Joseph O. Falkinham welcomed the findings, saying M. avium can be a danger because in a shower "the organism is aerosolized where you can inhale it."
In addition to people with weakened immune systems, Falkinham also cited studies showing increased M. avium infections in slender, elderly people who have a single gene for cystic fibrosis, but not the disease itself.
Two copies of the gene are needed to get cystic fibrosis, but having just one copy may result in increased vulnerability to M. avium infection as people age, said Falkinham, who was not part of Pace's research team.
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Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences: http://www.pnas.org/
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