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Windshield Washer Fluid May Be Source of Legionnaires'

Researchers find bacteria can exist for up to 14 months in the product

TUESDAY, May 20, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Legionella bacteria can grow in windshield washer fluid and maintain stable populations in the fluid for up to 14 months, according to a study presented at the annual meeting of the American Society for Microbiology, held from May 17 to 20 in Boston.

Researchers found Legionella bacteria in the windshield washer fluid of 75 percent of school buses they tested in one central Arizona school district.

Otto Schwake, of Arizona State University in Tempe, and colleagues decided to conduct their study after previous research suggested a link between cars and increased risk for Legionnaires' disease. One of those studies concluded that nearly 20 percent of Legionnaires' cases in Great Britain were associated with windshield washer fluid.

"Washer fluid spray can release potentially dangerous numbers of these bacteria into the air," Schwake said in a statement. "This study is the first to detect high levels of Legionella in automobiles or aerosolized by washer fluid spray," he said. "While potential transmission of a deadly respiratory disease from a source as common as automobile windshield washing systems is significant, the study also points to the fact people can be exposed to pathogens -- particularly those occurring naturally in the environment -- in previously unknown and unusual ways."

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