A study examining the prevalence of the fungus Fusarium in bathroom sink drains suggests that plumbing systems may be a common source of human infections.
In the first extensive survey of its kind, researchers in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences sampled nearly 500 sink drains from 131 buildings -- businesses, homes, university dormitories and public facilities -- in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida and California.
They analyzed fungal DNA to compare the spectrum of Fusarium species and sequence types found in drains with those recovered from human infections.
The study identified at least one Fusarium isolate in 66 percent of the drains and in 82 percent of the buildings. About 70 percent of those isolates came from the six sequence types of Fusarium most frequently associated with human infections.
"With about two-thirds of sinks found to harbor Fusarium, it's clear that those buildings' inhabitants are exposed to these fungi on a regular basis," said lead investigator Dylan Short, who recently completed his doctorate in plant pathology. "This strongly supports the hypothesis that plumbing-surface biofilms serve as reservoirs for human pathogenic fusaria."
The researcherrs published their results in the December issue of the Journal of Clinical Microbiology.
Fusarium may be best known for causing a variety of diseases in agricultural crops. In Pennsylvania, Fusarium diseases of grains and greenhouse crops are of particular concern. Fusarium species also produce mycotoxins in association with plants, causing a direct health threat to animals and humans that eat the plants.
Some species of Fusarium also cause opportunistic and sometimes fatal infections in humans, typically entering the body through wounds or trauma, via catheters and intravenous devices or by introduction of a biofilm to the
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