Just say no to media hysteria

Once in a while a story comes along that makes you wonder what the reporters were smoking. Here is a prime example:

BBC NEWS | Health | Taking showers ‘can make you ill’

Quoting from the story…

Tests revealed nearly a third of devices harbour significant levels of a bug that causes lung disease… M. avium forms a biofilm that clings to the inside of the shower head, reports the National Academy of Science.

Water spurting from shower heads can distribute bacteria-filled droplets that suspend themselves in the air and can easily be inhaled into the deepest parts of the lungs, say the scientists from the University of Colorado at Boulder.

“If you are getting a face full of water when you first turn your shower on, that means you are probably getting a particularly high load of Mycobacterium avium, which may not be too healthy” Researcher Professor Norman Pace

A couple of points come to mind.

  • The bacterium is a naturally-occurring one, which is essentially harmless at low levels.
  • What is a “biofilm”? It sounds like something like a soap-bubble made of bacteria.

But here’s the kicker, and the point that the reporter utterly failed to make. Most of us run the shower for a few seconds to let it warm up. And those who prefer cold showers don’t usually start with “a faceful of water”.

I’m no expert, but wouldn’t that simple and common practice flush the “biofilm” straight down the drain where it belongs?

This seems to me a classic case of press-release regurgitation with the absolute minimum of thought or critical thinking. Irresponsible reporting at it’s best… which is probably why this particular story did not invite comments.

For some reason, I expected better from the BBC.

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