Most of us think of the bathroom sink as a place to wash away dangerous germs. But many sink drains harbor disease-causing fungus, a Penn State study released this week found.
The fungus Fusarium is known for causing diseases in crops such as tomatoes and wheat, and one strain, Fusarium venantum, is even produced for use as human food under the name Quorn.
But some strains are dangerous to humans, causing infections in the nails and cornea in people with healthy immune systems, and fatal bloodstream infections in people with weakened immune systems. A 2005-06 outbreak of corneal infections among contact lens wearers in the U.S. was blamed on Fusarium.
Taking samples from nearly 500 bathroom sink drains in homes, businesses, university dormitories and public facilities across eight states – including California – reasearchers found traces of the bacteria in 66 percent of the drains and 82 percent of the buildings. Around 70 percent of the strains isolated were those likely to infect humans. Fusarium is resistant to many antifungal drugs, making infections difficult to treat.
Thorough hand washing, drying feet thoroughly after showering, and careful contact lens hygiene are the best preventive measures.