Is Your Shower Head Making You Sick? NTM Could be the Answer

Is Your Shower Head Making You Sick Infographic

This information has been reviewed and approved by Gwen A. Huitt, MD, MS (September 2013).

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Summary: Is Your Shower Head Making You Sick? NTM Could Be The Answer

A disease called NTM may be spread through water from contaminated shower heads.


What is NTM?

  • NTM stands for nontuberculous mycobacteria
  • Bacteria similar to tuberculosis (TB)
  • Spread through environment, not person to person
  • Cure rate is only about 50%


Symptoms of NTM

  • Chronic or recurring cough
  • Fever
  • Weight loss
  • Lack of appetite
  • Night sweats
  • Loss of energy


Where is NTM found?

  • NTM bacteria are abundant in soil and water
  • NTM can live in the shower head - soap/calcium build-up may also contain NTM
  • Water droplets and steam in showers can carry the bacteria and be inhaled while showering
  • Soil particles containing NTM can be inhaled when soil is stirred


NTM Prevention

  • Clean your showerhead by soaking in vinegar or water
  • Replace showerheads periodically as needed
  • Set water heater to 140° (use caution to avoid scalding)
  • Remove the shower head completely
  • Take baths instead of showers
  • Avoid steam rooms, hot tubs, etc. where steam or droplets with bacteria particles could be inhaled
  • Wear a mask and gloves while gardening


Who can get NTM?

Anyone can get nontuberculous mycobacteria, but it mostly affects:

  • People with underlying lung disease (e.g., COPD, bronchiectasis)
  • Tall, thin women
  • 30,000 new NTM infections are diagnosed each year


Need Help or More Info?

Contact National Jewish Health


More Information on Nontuberculous Mycobacteria (NTM)

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