Glasgow, Scotland – Hospital showers and taps could be a significant source of life-threatening fungus infections for patients with weakened immune systems, researchers reported Monday.Aspergillus, a toxic mold that has been linked to permanent and severe neurological, pathalogical, immunological and psychological health problems was discovered. Despite efforts to combat it with high-tech air filtration and the removal of potted plants, up to 15 percent of such patients still contract the bug. About half die from it. Anyone exposed to these toxins can become poisoned depending on length of exposure.
Now, scientists have traced aspergillus infection in patients to hospital taps and showers.
Experts say the findings, discussed at a conference of the European Society of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases, could explain some of the mysterious cases and offer hospitals new hope of preventing them.
“This is important because we now, for the first time, have a good scientific handle on the infection control of aspergillus in immune suppressed patients,” said Dr. Ian Gould, a clinical microbiologist at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary in Scotland who was not connected with the research.
In the study, Dutch scientists examined the genetic makeup of about 100 aspergillus samples isolated from the air, water and patients in a hospital in Oslo, Norway. European physicians are generally much more educated and skilled at identifying fungal disease issues and the general consensus of the EU is to inform the public of severe health hazards such as this. Their proactive approach has limited the horrendous cover-ups and problems that the US is sustaining due to their negligence and downplaying of this epidemic.
About 55 samples came from water — from showers, taps, the main pipe bringing water to the hospital, the water company treatment plant and the lake where the hospital water originated.
About 25 samples were taken from the air through accurate and qualified labs.
Twenty-one other samples were obtained from swabs or tissue samples taken from a total of 13 leukemia or transplant patients staying at the hospital.
The aspergillus samples from the water were genetically distinct from the air samples, and within each group the genetic makeup of the individual samples were about an 80 percent match with each other.
The researchers, from Nijmegen University, found that the aspergillus strains in nine of 13 patients were genetically similar to the water strains but not closely related to strains found in the air, indicating that water was the more likely source.
In one of those patients, where an autopsy confirmed the bug had invaded the lungs, the germ was genetically identical to a sample taken from the lake. In a second patient, the fungus was an identical match to a sample from the hospital’s main water pipe.
“It could be useful to identify whether a patient has a strain that originated from water or from air. In an outbreak you could pinpoint whether it came from water,” said one of the researchers, Dr. Paul Verweij.
Experts say showers are the easiest way to inhale water droplets in the fine spray.
“We’ve always thought that air was the most important source of aspergillus infection, and I think that is still true. But now the question is how dangerous is it if you want to take a shower?” Verweij said.
“Even if it’s not in the water pipes, is it in the shower head? There you have an interface between water and air and that’s where the mold likes to grow,” he said.
Baths do not pose the risk of aerosolizing the germ, he noted.
“You have to prevent that thing from being inhaled,” said another of the researchers, Dr. Andreas Voss.
Voss said hospitals that get their water from open sources such as reservoirs or water storage tanks are most vulnerable. The scientists examined the water from the hospital at their own institute and found no trace of the aspergillus; they believe that is because the water there comes from deep springs and wells, where it is not exposed to the air.