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Study looks at germs lurking in ball pits

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(CLEVELAND CLINIC) – Ball pits are a fun way for kids to expend some energy. However, according to one recent study, they are also full of germs and bacteria.

For the study, researchers tested ball pits located in various physical therapy clinics.

They found a considerable amount of bacteria in all of the locations, some of which could potentially cause infection.

“What they did find is that a lot of bacteria can live in these ball pits,” said Frank Esper, M.D., of Cleveland Clinic Children’s, who did not take part in the study. “The majority of the bacteria itself were bacteria that you would expect; bacteria that is found on children’s skin; normally found in the mouth, and some of the bacteria that’s found in the gut. There wasn’t any resistant or really dangerous bacteria. You’re not finding bad, harmful germs, to the normal child.”

Dr. Esper said there is an exposure risk, especially since researchers tested ball pits in clinics – whereas the types of ball pits found at restaurant chains or community parks, could potentially have even more bacteria.

For the most part, he said it’s perfectly safe for children to play in ball pits. However, if a child has a compromised immune system or if they are on medications that reduce their ability to fight off infections, precautions should be taken.

Likewise, if a child has an open sore or wound, it’s best to stay out of the ball pit to avoid infection.

Dr. Esper adds that, like any play area, good hand hygiene is important in a ball pit.

“Wash your hands before and after jumping into a ball pit,” he said. “Understand they will get exposed to germs in a ball pit, just like they would be exposed to germs at any playground facility, and that it’s okay. Most children who jump into a ball pit will be fine when they come out of the ball pit.”

Dr. Esper said the study shows it’s a good idea for facilities to review the types of sterilization practices used for these activities.

Complete results of the study can be found in the American Journal of Infection Control.


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