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Hospital shower hoses harbor potentially harmful bacteria

Scientists from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in collaboration with scientists from the Georgia Institute of Technology, using cutting-edge metagenomic techniques, were able to document the bacteria and related genomes, according to the UPI.

Using culture-independent techniques, the researchers studied the microbial communities found in five different shower hoses to determine if the bacteria could be a threat to patients. Interestingly, the source of drinking water (DW) in hospitals is usually disinfected. Bacterial biofilms forming on the pipelines are a refuge for bacteria, including pathogenic bacteria.

What is a biofilm?
To understand what the researchers were looking for, we need to understand what biofilms are. To bring it closer to home, the plaque that forms on our teeth is a type of biofilm that harbors certain types of bacteria that cause cavities and periodontal disease.

Bacteria can form biofilms on just about any surface, from household counter tops to sink drains and shower heads. When bacterial cells land on a surface, they form clusters that then attach to the surface. They then produce a gooey film, signaling one another to multiply and form a microcolony. This allows for diverse bacterial species with varying metabolic states to coexist.

Hospital shower hoses have microbiomes
Just like the human gut has microbiomes, the team found that the shower hoses had their own bacterial colonies that had set up housekeeping. They found that a genetic analysis of the biofilm bacteria suggested that some were potentially pathogenic, including being resistant to antibiotics.

“We can say confidently that if pathogens are in there, they are not there in very high abundance,” Kostas Konstantinidis, an associate professor in Georgia Tech’s School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, said in a press release.

He added, “But the organisms that we detected as abundant in these biofilms appear to have characteristics that could be of interest because they are related to some bacteria that are opportunistic pathogens that could pose a threat, especially to immunocompromised hospital patients.”

The findings are alarming because they indicate that relatively harmless bacteria can share antibiotic-resistance genes with more potent strains. “Some of the identified genes are the kind that we’d want to keep an eye on,” Konstandtinidis explained.

There is a definite need for more investigation into microbial biofilms in hospitals and other health care facilities, especially with the growing number of antibiotic-resistant bacterias we have today. The fact that some of the microbes found in the study were able to withstand high doses of disinfectants and/or chlorine residuals in the water supply remain speculative, yet an important finding.

This interesting research was published in the journal [i]Applied and Environmental Microbiology[i]on March 11, 2016, under the title: “Characterization of biofilms developing on hospital shower hoses and implications for nosocomial infections.

Written By

Karen Graham is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for environmental news. Karen's view of what is happening in our world is colored by her love of history and how the past influences events taking place today. Her belief in man's part in the care of the planet and our environment has led her to focus on the need for action in dealing with climate change. It was said by Geoffrey C. Ward, "Journalism is merely history's first draft." Everyone who writes about what is happening today is indeed, writing a small part of our history.

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