Windshield Washer Fluid Linked to Legionnaires' Disease, Study Suggests

Tuesday, 20 May 2014 01:54 PM

By Nick Sanchez

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Legionnaires' disease, caused by a deadly bacteria often associated with air conditioning systems and hot tubs, has now been linked to windshield washing fluid.

According to The Washington Post, Otto Schwake, a researcher at Arizona State University, has found that the pathogen flourishes in some brands of the fluid, and can be easily inhaled upon spraying. Schwake will present his findings to the American Society for Microbiology this week, where he also plans to propose that the fluid causes nearly 20 percent of Legionnaires' cases.

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"When a doctor sees pneumonia, he’s not going to say 'oh you got it from your car.' He’s going to say 'oh you got it from a typical source'," he said.

Legionnaires' disease lives in water and soil and can wreak havoc on human immune systems when it becomes airborne, embedding itself in the lungs. Life-threatening pneumonia can result, but more often the bacteria causes Pontiac fever, which resembles a mild flu and naturally resolves itself.

The bacteria was first discovered in 1976 when 34 people attending an American Legion convention in Philadelphia died after being exposed to the hotel's air conditioning system.

Schwake took his samples from school bus washer fluids, and discovered that the brands that didn't contain the de-icer component, methanol, carry the bacteria best.

He said that those most at risk are professional drivers who sit behind a steering wheel all day, such as those driving school buses. One might also assume convertibles pose a greater risk than traditional cars that are more water-tight.

Schwake said that, in the future, he hope to study the link between soil and Legionnaires', which he suspects is more prominent than we think.

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