Inhaled Bacteria From Showers Linked to Crohn's Onset

  • It is estimated that as many as 250,000 people in the UK suffer from Crohn's disease.  UK scientists recently noticed a cluster of Crohn's patients who may have gotten sick by an inhaled bacteria.  Mycobacterium avium subspecies paratuberculosis, or MAP, is a bacteria that causes Johne's disease in cattle.  Johne's disease symptoms include livestock wasting and diarrhea.  In people, especially children, the symptoms may begin as a cough or mild inflammation of the throat or lungs (1).

    In this study, the MAP aerosols, or inhaled bacterial particles, were found in the River Taff that runs right through the cluster area.  Runoff from cattle farms in the area appears to be the cause of MAP in the river.  Shower heads in the area also collected MAP when domestic water was abstracted from the river.  One of five aerosol samples collected above the River Taff and three out of 30 of the shower heads in area homes tested positive for MAP (2).  

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    *Running the shower water for a few minutes before you get in allows the MAP bacteria to be washed away from the shower head and pipes before you enter the shower.  

    MAP can be difficult to detect in humans.  Bacterial DNA or RNA can be tested for or the bacteria can be cultured to determine infection rates.  When testing is done correctly, almost every person with Crohn's tested positive for the MAP infection (3).  That is why the infection is being studied closely as a cause for the onset of Crohn's disease.

    This study is definitely not cause for panic.  While the results of the study indicate that MAP may play a role in this cluster of Crohn's patients, it is not conclusive.  Current clinical trials are looking into whether anti-MAP treatments can cure Crohn's disease.  If you have concerns over this issue or live in the cluster area, please discuss the subject with your gastroenterologist or physician. 

Published On: September 10, 2014