The disease-causing fungus Fusarium is commonly found in bathroom sink drains, and could be a major source of human infection, according to a study by Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences.
The study examined 500 sink drains in 131 residential and commercial buildings in eight states. Researchers found the fungus in 66 percent of drains and 82 percent of buildings. About 70 percent of the strains discovered were varieties that can cause infection in humans.
“With about two-thirds of sinks found to harbor Fusarium, it's clear that those buildings' inhabitants are exposed to these fungi on a regular basis,” said the study’s lead investigator, Dylan Short.
The fungus was linked to an outbreak of fungal keratitis, an infection of the cornea, in wearers of contact lenses in the United States and Southeast Asia between 2005 and 2006.
In those cases, “plumbing systems were the main environmental sources of the most frequent Fusarium species and sequence types associated with eye infections,” said Short.
Researchers say the fungus is killed by cleaning products, including bleach.
Though it can be fatal, serious fusatia infections are uncommon, said research team member David Geiser.
“Our apparently constant physical proximity to these fungi belies their relative obscurity in terms of public awareness and understanding by the scientific community,” said Geiser.
The study was published in the December issue of the Journal of Clinical Microbiology.