A new paper coming out in the journal Fungal Biology is getting a lot of press. The paper is: Dishwashers — A man-made ecological niche accommodating human opportunistic fungal pathogens
Normally, I try to avoid writing up blog posts relating to papers that are not at least freely available online so that anyone out there can read them. This one alas is not. However, I am going to make an exception here because I think the press is running a bit too far with some hype associated with this study. I am writing to the authors to suggest they post a version of their paper online and if/when they do I will post a link.
The paper basically is a study of fungi that live in the rubber seals of dishwashers from ~ 100 towns from around the world. And they found some interesting as well as some potentially nasty bugs. The story seems a bit overhyped as there are probably fungi growing just about anywhere there is moisture in people’s houses. But it is also kind of fascinating as this particular niche many may have thought would be a very harsh indoor environment with the temperature fluctuations, detergent exposures, occasional high salt, and fluctuations in pH.
As far as I can tell, this study does not really say anything about actual health risks from these fungi. But that has not stopped the press from suggesting there are major risks. I think this danger hype was compounded by the press release associated with the paper: ‘My dishwasher is trying to kill me’. Just the title alone is misleading. There is no evidence of health affects and even inferences about health risks of these fungi seems to be a stretch. Basically, they did a connect the dots type of inference — they found certain species of fungi in the dishwashers — the same species are known to cause negative health effects, especially in patients with cystic fibrosis — and thus they implicate the dishwashers in health risks. But for all we know the organisms they found are not the varieties that cause infections. And even if they could cause infections this does not mean they are able to move from dishwasher rubber gaskets to people.
I am posting some links to some articles out there on this topic, with the warning that most seem to be playing along with the hype that is suggested by the press release.
- Observations: Unwanted Housemates: Dishwashers Provide Habitat for ‘Extremotolerant’ Fungi.
- Dishwasher fungus alarms scientists Sydney Morning Herald
- Dishwashers harbour ‘killer bugs’ Telegraph
- My dishwasher is trying to kill me: Deadly bacteria found in household appliances Daily Mail – note mistaken identity in title
- The KILLER MUTANT FUNGUS in YOUR DISHWASHER – Register
- How clean is your dishwasher – Times of India
- Unwanted Housemates: Dishwashers Provide Habitat for ‘Extremotolerant’ Fungi – Scientific American Blog
- Hardass microbes are colonising your kitchen – SciencePunk
What this goes to show is that if you write a hyped up press release with a dark story line in the title – you can get some coverage. It is of course possible that such fungi in dishwashers pose real health risks. But as far as I can tell this is not shown in the current work.