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Bacteria can live on toys, books, and cribs for long periods

Harold Mandel's picture
A child playing

Kids can be particularly sensitive to infectious agents which can cause serious illness and are sometimes even deadly. It is therefore important to try to protect children from exposure to infectious agents. To effectively do so it is a good idea to remain aware of where these infectious agents can grow and to be very careful about hygiene around your kids.

Research has shown streptococci may survive in the environment and be transferred from person to person, reports Infection and Immunity journal. It was previously thought that Streptococcus pyogenes and Streptococcus pneumoniae rapidly died outside of the human host, therefore losing infectivity following desiccation in the environment. However, new research shows biofilm bacteria remain viable over extended periods of time outside of the host and remain infectious in a murine colonization model.

The researchers took direct bacteriologic cultures of items in a day-care center. These items demonstrated high levels of viable Streptococcus pyogenes and Streptococcus pneumoniae. These findings have suggested that streptococci which survive in the environment may be transferred from person to person via fomites which are contaminated with oropharyngeal secretions which contain biofilm streptococci.

It has been discovered by the researchers that Streptococcus pneumoniae and Streptococcus pyogenes persist on surfaces for far longer than has been appreciated, reports the University of Buffalo. Previous studies had concluded that two common bacteria which cause ear infections, strep throat and more serious infections cannot live for a long period of time outside the human body.

Therefore, conventional wisdom has long held that these bacteria do not linger on inanimate objects such as furniture, dishes or toys. However, researchers at the University at Buffalo have suggested because these bacteria can persist on surfaces for extended periods of time, extra precautions may be necessary to prevent infections, particularly in schools, daycare centers and hospitals.

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Senior author Anders Hakansson, PhD, has said, “These findings should make us more cautious about bacteria in the environment since they change our ideas about how these particular bacteria are spread.” The researchers say this is the first paper which directly investigates how these bacteria can survive well on various surfaces, including hands, and potentially spread between individuals.

S. pneumoniae is a leading cause of ear infections in kids and of morbidity and mortality from respiratory tract infections in kids and the elderly. S. pneumoniae is widespread in daycare centers and is a very common cause of hospital infections. In developing countries, where there are problems getting fresh water, good nutrition and common antibiotics, S. pneumoniae often leads to pneumonia and sepsis, resulting in the deaths of one million kids every year. S. pyogenes is a common cause of strep throat and skin infections in school kids and also can cause serious infections in adults.

The University of Buffalo researchers found that in the day care center, four out of five stuffed toys tested positive for S. pneumonaie. The researchers also found that several surfaces, such as cribs, tested positive for S. pyogenes, even after they were cleaned. This testing was done in the morning before the opening of the center and so was many hours after the last human contact.

It was observed by the researchers that biofilm of S. pneumoniae and S. pyogenes from contaminated surfaces which was a month old readily colonized mice. Furthermore, biofilms survived for hours on human hands. Biofilms also persisted on books and soft and hard toys and surfaces in a daycare center, sometimes even after being cleaned very well. Pathogens were found to survive for long periods outside a human host in all of these cases.

Dr. Hakansson has said, “Commonly handled objects that are contaminated with these biofilm bacteria could act as reservoirs of bacteria for hours, weeks or months, spreading potential infections to individuals who come in contact with them.” Clearly, more aggressive protocols may be necessary to help prevent the spread of bacteria, particularly for where kids play and in health care settings.

Infections of kids and the elderly can be very upsetting and even life threatening. I have observed that it is often difficult to get kids and adults to adhere to good nutritional practices and lifestyle practices which can help boost the immune system to help prevent and fight infections. And with this added knowledge about the potential for the spread of bacteria from biofilms it will be even more difficult than ever to have kids and others adhere to even more aggressive hygienic measures.

Clearly, it is therefore important to work harder to share the most recent knowledge available about infections with kids and adults and to convince them it is in their best interests to implement all possible measures to prevent and fight these infections. A good tasty suggestion to help reduce infections in kids is probiotic yogurt drinks, reports EmaxHealth reporter Deborah Mitchell.