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Half of US tap water found to contain live bacterium that can cause Legionnaires' disease

Tuesday, March 04, 2014 by: Ethan A. Huff, staff writer
Tags: tap water, Legionnaires'' disease, live bacterium

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(NaturalNews) The water coming out of your faucets at home could be teeming with a live bacterium known to cause a potentially deadly form of pneumonia. New research published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology reveals that more than half of all U.S. tap water is likely contaminated with a bacterium linked to causing Legionnaires' disease, the symptoms of which include fever, cough and chills.

To make this discovery, researchers from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) collected 272 water samples from 68 taps across the country over the course of two years. Upon analysis, 47 percent of these samples tested positive for Legionella pneumophila, a bacterium capable of developing into either Legionnaires' disease or the less-severe Pontiac fever upon infection -- these two conditions are collectively referred to as legionellosis.

As it turns out, nearly half of the taps from which water samples were collected, 32, were found to contain traces of L. pneumophila in at least one collected sample. Of these 32 taps, 11 were identified as containing the bacterium in multiple samples -- water samples were collected from kitchen sinks, bathroom sinks, drinking fountains and refrigerator water dispensers, according to reports.

"Nearly half of the taps showed the presence of L. pneumophila Sg1 [Serogroup 1] in one sampling event and 16% of taps showed it in more than one sampling event," reads the study's abstract. "This study is the first national survey in documenting the occurrence and colonization of L. pneumophila Sg1 in cold water from point of use taps."

Though relatively rare, infections leading to legionellosis are mostly caused by L. pneumophila when they do emerge, which supports the urgent relevance of this latest investigation. If potentially millions of Americans are being regularly exposed to a bacterium that could, in some cases, kill them, then public health agencies need to address the problem, or at the very least warn the public.

Inhaling contaminated water vapor risky; drinking it, not so much

At the same time, Legionnaires' disease is said to only be contracted through airborne exposure, which means that drinking contaminated water is not necessarily an issue. However, breathing in the vapors of contaminated water during a hot shower, for instance, or from the condensation of an air conditioning unit is a possible risk.

"If your drinking water has legionella bacteria in it, you will not catch [the disease] unless you aspirate the water, or during showers you inhale the water mist," writes one CBS Philly commenter about the study's findings. "You will not catch it from other people or ingestion, unless you aspirate," he adds, a position also affirmed by MedicineNet.com.

You can view the full study abstract as published by the American Chemical Society here: http://pubs.acs.org.

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