What Are the Dangers of Bacteria in Humidifiers?

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Safe humidity levels in a home are between 40 and 60 percent: any higher and there's a danger of dust mites or mold; any lower and you may feel uncomfortable or risk damage to paint and wallpaper. Though humidifiers can help maintain safe humidity levels, they have their own dangers associated with them, including the buildup of potentially deadly bacteria in the unit. These problems can usually be avoided by changing the water in the humidifier regularly and thoroughly cleaning the humidifier and its components often.

Legionnaires' Disease

  • The bacteria that causes Legionnaires' disease, Legionella pneumophila, can grow inside a humidifier and enter the air as the humidifier releases mist. While not everyone who ingests the bacteria will develop the disease, those with weaker immune systems are at risk. Symptoms of this disease include fatigue, headaches, high fever and digestive problems. Recovery time is lengthy, and the disease can be fatal.

Thermophilic Actinomycetes

  • Another type of bacteria that grows in humidifiers is thermophilic actinomycetes, which may develop in humidifier units that run at high temperatures, conditions ideal for this strain. Symptoms of infection are flu-like, including headache, chills and muscle fatigue; the infection is even described as "humidifier fever." Though these symptoms will pass usually without serious harm, it is nevertheless a good idea to avoid them by keeping humidifiers clean.

Allergies and Infections

  • Those with allergies or a history of respiratory problems are at risk of worsening their condition by exposing themselves to the bacteria that grow inside humidifiers. If you or someone you live with has a medical history of asthma or any other breathing impairment, it's best to inspect humidifiers for film or scum on the water surface or the surfaces of the tank.

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