In a report published in the Daily Mail last year, a study found that up to 1.5 million homes in the UK could be hiding Legionella bacteria. This particular strain of microbes is the leading cause of Legionnaires’ disease, a possibly deadly form of pneumonia.
According to the same study, a high number of Legionella bacteria can be found in the bathroom, predominantly in the showers. Shower heads, in particular, are great places for different types of microbes to live in. This is because they have the following:
• The ideal temperature. Legionella bacteria like living in areas with temperatures between 20° and 45° C.
• They are connected to dead legs. “Dead legs” is a typical term you will hear over and over again in Legionella risk assessment and control. This term refers to any length of pipework that has been out of use for a long time or only used sporadically. These two scenarios can lead to standing water.
Dead legs are the ideal breeding ground for Legionella. If your shower head is connected to a dead leg, the water and aerosols coming from the fixture will be contaminated.
• Contamination. Sludge, rust, scale, biofilm and other forms of debris and organic matter also easily develop in the shower head, connected pipes and other outlets. As such, they will act as a source of nutrients for Legionella to grow.
• The length of pipes. If you have a large property and have complex pipework, you will typically have numerous long pipes. The length of these pipes can lead to a risk of having warm and standing water, and encourage the growth of Legionella. Again, tainted aerosols will be released whenever you take a shower.
Legionella and Your Shower Head
As already mentioned, Legionnaires’ disease is a form of pneumonia and as such, it is a type of lung infection. It is not typically contracted by drinking contaminated water, but by inhaling tainted aerosols or tiny droplets of liquid in the air.
If your showerhead or water system is already harbouring Legionella bacteria, aside from water, it will release contaminated aerosols. When you inhale these aerosols whenever you take a shower, the bacteria will find their way into your respiratory system and can cause an infection.
The symptoms of Legionnaires’ disease will often be seen and felt between two to 14 days after exposure to the bacteria or during the incubation period. The symptoms of this disease are similar to those of other types of pneumonia which include:
• Fever above 40°C
• Coughs with or without mucus or blood
• Frequent headaches
• Shortness of breath
• Nausea and vomiting
• Headaches and muscle aches
• Chest pain
• Loss of appetite
• Seizures (in severe cases)
Legionella Prevention and Control in Your Showers
To ensure you are always taking healthy and safe baths, start by conducting regular Legionella tests in your water system. By doing so, you can immediately find out if your shower heads are harbouring these harmful bacteria and carry out the necessary steps to control and prevent their spread.
Aside from regular testing, you can keep your shower heads free from Legionella and other types of bacteria by following these tips:
1. Use an antibacterial chemical water treatment to clean and disinfect tanks and shower heads frequently. Chemical treatments such as Shower Head Plus destroy bacteria by breaking down their cells and preventing further growth. They offer the best kind of protection against bacteria.
2. Regularly clean and disinfect the shower head to prevent the accumulation of scale, sludge, rust, biofilm and other residues. When you have clean shower heads, bacteria won’t live in these fixtures.
3. Detach the shower head and run water at 60°C for at least two minutes regularly. Legionella bacteria thrive in temperatures between 20° and 45°C. When you run water at 60°C, you will prevent the dangerous microbes from settling in your shower head.
4. Have a thermostatic mixing valve installed. This particular type of valve mixes hot and cold water at the point of use to prevent scalding but permits water to be stored at high temperatures.
5. Change shower heads when needed. Properly maintained shower heads can last a long time but have to be changed when regular cleaning and disinfecting are becoming less and less effective. This is because mineral and debris build-up will ultimately render regular maintenance useless.
Do not attempt to carry out any complicated tasks such as dismantling shower heads if you’re not feeling confident about doing so. You may end up damaging the fixture and even the whole system. You can always contact a plumber to clean these fixtures for you.
Make sure you use the right protective outfit when cleaning and disinfecting shower heads as well. Antimicrobial water treatments contain harsh chemicals. As such, always wear rubber gloves, eye protection, and an apron when handling and using them.
Regularly clean and disinfect your shower heads to be certain you won’t get ill from the simple task of taking a shower. Make sure you also use an effective antibacterial chemical water treatment when disinfecting this bathroom fixture to keep it free from Legionella and other dangerous bacteria.
Author: Duncan Hollis