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Bacteria in sink drains could stir allergies

Lurking in the drains of some sinks could be a fungus known as Fusarium.

While a fungus that can cause sinus infections and other common allergy symptoms was found in a majority of the household sinks analyzed in a recent study, doctors are advising allergy sufferers to remain calm and observe potentially beneficial tips to avoid being negatively affected.

A Penn State University study, published in the Journal of Clinical Microbiology, recently tested 471 sinks in the eastern United States and California, and found at least one strain of Fusarium in two-thirds of the sinks. The fungus is known to cause allergy symptoms, such as itchy eyes, fatigue, nasal congestion, coughing and sneezing. Some researchers think that serious eye infections may have been caused when vulnerable individuals washed their contact lenses in water that was contaminated by Fusarium.

While the study did find that the six most common strains of Fusarium observed in the sinks were the same strains that are cause illness in humans, it was not able to determine how the fungus directly affects individuals.

"Just because you find mold there, it doesn't mean there's a health effect," allergist James Sublett, chair of the indoor environment committee for the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, told NPR. "You're not going to stick your head down your drain."

The Penn State study relates to a post published last week, in which two Louisiana residents died when a bacteria entered their bodies after they did not properly clean a nasal irrigation system they had filled with contaminated tap water. The negative health effects observed in both instances are extremely rare, but Americans should still be aware of the potential for contaminants to be present in tap water.

Sublett told NPR that individuals should try to reduce humidity levels in rooms that have sinks. While these rooms, especially kitchens and bathrooms, are often moist, regular use of a dehumidifier could help prevent mold from growing in sink drains.

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