home Journal club, News Is your dishwasher trying to kill you? Maybe, but no evidence of that from this work

Is your dishwasher trying to kill you? Maybe, but no evidence of that from this work

Raised dishwasher 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.

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.

9 thoughts on “Is your dishwasher trying to kill you? Maybe, but no evidence of that from this work

  1. I wonder what sort of measures might be taken to prevent this sort of thing happening ad nauseum for the next several decades? Especially as the cost of sequencing drops and the rate of surveillance increases, someone somewhere will find potentially worrisome organisms in many, many habitats (domestic or otherwise).

    And, how will we know when we should really be alarmed?

    I’m reminded of the semi-recent work showing MRSA is abundant on surfaces in airplanes. On the one hand, seems pretty alarming b/c antibiotic resistance is no joke. On the other hand, gazillions of people ride airplanes everyday without incident, etc. Or maybe more practically, that rice warmers are good incubators for b. cereus, etc.

  2. I think there is going to be no end of this stuff — but it is not like there hasn’t been any in the past — the problem is going to be as people do home testing and find “E. coli” somewhere or whatever — they will freak out — we need to start a “microbial counseling service” just like genetic counseling

    1. I think the microbial counseling service is an interesting idea. Considering the amount of microbial genomes in and on the human body far surpasses personal genetic material, there are probably personal health reasons for contemplating such a service too (and I’m not sure how well existing health professionals will deal with microbial data).

    1. Yeah. We are just beginning to do microbiome sampling in the PGP, so its a good time to get a pilot going. Lets talk offline.

  3. It’s ironic that the same people who see these sensational headlines and freak out are probably the same people that had McDonalds for breakfast and/or lunch and/or dinner.

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