Dangerous pathogens lurk in wet areas

Hospitals and homes are havens for germs and disease — but a well-regulated hot water system can prevent the spread of waterborne pathogens, including an emerging infectious disease problem from ‘superbugs’ which can be resistant to most antibiotics.

However, Flinders University experts warn that some drinking water treatment methods may be ineffective against some waterborne pathogens that pose a threat to immune-compromised individuals — and point-of-use devices such as taps and showerheads may create havens for these microorganisms to grow.

The elderly, newborns and those with compromised immune systems are especially vulnerable to waterborne infections. Numbers are rising of people with conditions such as advanced age, cancer and immunodeficiency issues who may be more at risk of ‘opportunistic premise plumbing pathogens’ (OPPP) infection.

Regular changes to tap and outlet filters, hot water service maintenance checks (for heat and pressure) and effective cleaning of shower and tap faucets are recommended for immune-compromised patients receiving healthcare at home or post-surgical management.

Healthcare at home has emerged as an alternative to extensive inpatient hospital stays — especially through the COVID-19 pandemic, to reduce the burden on the healthcare system and to support those with potential long term respiratory side effects.

“These measures can help reduce the risk of waterborne infections in home care, along with quality treatments of mains water to provide safe drinking water,” says lead researcher Claire Hayward, from Flinders University’s College of Science and Engineering.

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