Windshield Washer Fluid – Latest Health Risk?
It looks like there may be another reason to be careful when you look under your car’s hood – and it’s got nothing to do with homeless squirrels nesting on your engine. Sure, it’s a good idea to regularly check your vehicle’s fluid levels, but if you’ve got the hood open, be careful. According to research just released by the American Society for Microbiology at its general meeting in Boston, your car’s windshield washer fluid could be ground zero for a nasty type of bacteria linked to respiratory illness, including a severe form of pneumonia known as Legionnaire’s disease. Too bad your car insurance doesn’t cover this kind of hazard.
You wouldn’t think common windshield washer fluid could be tied to spreading disease, but the research was started after several studies found a connection between frequency of car use and increased risk for Legionnaires’ disease. In Great Britain, one study identified nearly one out of five people with Legionnaires’ disease cases not related to hospitals or outbreaks, to automobile windshield washer fluid as the source. And even more disturbing, the researchers believe that Legionella in the United States is under-diagnosed as the cause of pneumonias.
The results found come from a series of experiments conducted in the summer of 2012. Researchers were able to grow Legionella bacteria in several different washer fluid mixtures.
• Bacterial counts increased with time
• Bacteria populations lasted up to 14 months
• Legionella was found in almost 75% of the washer fluid from school buses in central Arizona
• The amount of Legionella in the washer fluid was higher in the summer than winter months
Legionella bacteria facts:
• Legionella bacteria, usually found in water, occur naturally in the environment.
• They are not spread from person to person, but instead are transmitted through mist or vapor containing the bacteria.
• Generally associated with mist which may come from hot tubs, showers, or air-conditioning units for large buildings.
• Most people exposed to the bacteria do not become sick, but in some people it can cause Legionnaires’ disease.
• The bacteria can also cause Pontiac fever (not an urge to buy an old GTO), a milder illness which resembles the flu.
o Pontiac fever is different from Legionnaires’ disease because the patient does not have pneumonia.
People at more risk:
• Are older than 50
• Have a chronic lung disease
• Have a weak immune system
Legionnaires’ disease usually develops two to 10 days after you come in contact with legionella bacteria. It frequently begins with the following signs and symptoms:
• Muscle pain
• Fever that may be 104 degrees Fahrenheit or higher
By the second or third day, you’ll develop other signs and symptoms that may include:
• Cough, which may bring up mucus and sometimes blood
• Shortness of breath
• Chest pain
• Gastrointestinal symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhea
• Confusion or other mental changes
The disease was named after an outbreak at a meeting of the American Legion in Philadelphia in 1976. Legionnaires’ disease is serious and can be life-threatening. However, most people recover with antibiotic treatment.
Researchers still need more data before any safety precautions can be suggested. Speaking of staying safe, make sure your car insurance is up to date.
Will this study change your mind about using public showers or hot tubs? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below!