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Beware the Shower Floor

Apr 24, 2018

We think of the shower as a place to get off the dirt of the day and make a fresh start. However, there may be something unexpected lurking. "Fungal and bacterial infections can often be acquired from the shower," said Emily McKenzie, MD, a dermatologist with University of Utah Health. "All of these are much more common in shared showers, such as those at the pool, gym or in dorms."

That's right, if you are used a shared shower you have no idea what your shower buddies may be bringing with them. And once these infections are in the shower they make themselves right at home. "The organisms then continue to live in the warm, moist, dark environment," said McKenzie. "Then you pick them up when you shower."

Athlete's foot is a common infection picked up from the shower floor. Wart viruses and HPV can also be present. "The most serious common infection that you can acquire from a shower is MRSA, or methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus," said McKenzie. "This can cause abscesses in the skin that may require treatment with antibiotics or surgical drainage."

The best way to avoid contracting something from a shared shower is to thoroughly disinfect the floor and any other tile you may set foot on before you enter. Or, if you don't happen to carry Lysol with you at all times, shower shoes or flip flops can give you adequate protection by keeping your skin out of direct contact with any organisms. Be sure to wash or disinfect them regularly. Also, keep the condition of your feet in mind. "Individuals who have cuts, blisters or other wounds on their feet are more likely to pick up an infection in the shower," said McKenzie. "In addition, individuals who are immunosuppressed are more likely to pick up an infection and are less likely to be able to fight it off effectively."

Of course, even the most careful person may end up picking up an infection. If you discover a red, itchy, scaly rash around your toes you probably have athlete's foot. White and moist skin between the toes is also a sign of a fungal infection. "Infection with bacteria such as MRSA will typically present with red, tender bumps that will drain a purulent material," said McKenzie. "An infection with HPV would cause a wart to grow."

The good news is that athlete's foot and fungal infections are easily cured either with over the counter medications or antibiotics. You should see a doctor for warts, if your symptoms aren't getting better or the condition seems to be spreading. "Additionally, if you develop any symptoms like a fever or chills in association with your skin disease you should be evaluated by a physician," said McKenzie.