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Warning: Plain Water for Windshield Wipers Could Make You Sick

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author photo by Autotrader June 2010

It's not often that a car site will refer to the "European Journal of Epidemiology," but it just goes to show that germs can get everywhere. In this case, bacteria in windshield washer water can cause a severe strain of pneumonia.

This esteemed publication has recently reported that having just water in a car's washer reservoir, without adding screenwash, substantially increases the risk of contracting Legionairres' Disease. The stagnant warm water becomes an ideal breeding ground for Legionella bacteria. When washer water is sprayed onto the windshield, it forms a fine mist, which could come through a car's vents or through an open window, and then be inhaled – the usual way someone falls prey to this condition.

Legionairres' is a nasty illness, with flu-like symptoms, muscle aches, tiredness, headaches and fever. It can also be fatal in 10 to 15 percent of cases. Those most at risk are men of 50 and over, especially those who drive for a living. But there's an easy way to avoid catching it from a vehicle. Add screenwash. It has ingredients that prevent the growth of bacteria.

To see if this was so, the United Kingdom's Health and Protection Agency (HPA) conducted a study of screen washer bottles. One in five of those with just water in them also had the Legionella bacteria. Every one with screenwash was bacteria-free. The HPA says that contaminated screen washer water could be responsible for 20 percent of Legionairres' Disease cases in the U.K.

Professor Hugh Pennington, of the Univerity of Aberdeen, Scotland, and an eminent bacteriologist, recommends adding the humble screenwash, saying: "If you can prevent [Legionairres' Disease] with something this simple, it's a no-brainer." It also means a cleaner screen.

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
Warning: Plain Water for Windshield Wipers Could Make You Sick - Autotrader