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Teen Health

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School Band Instruments Are Bacterial Hot Spots

Study Shows Musical Instruments Used in School Bands May Harbor Illness-Causing Microbes
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

March 16, 2011 -- Your band instrument may be a breeding ground for harmful bacteria, according to a new study.

The study is published in the journal General Dentistry.

While both the internal and external components of brass and woodwind instruments -- which are often shared among students without sanitizing -- were found to be contaminated, the mouthpiece harbored the heaviest concentrations of illness-causing microorganisms.

"Most of these instruments have been played by other students, and without the proper sanitation, bacteria and fungi can thrive for weeks and even months after the last use,” study researcher R. Thomas Glass, DDS, PhD, says in a news release.

Many of the microbes that the researchers identified are associated with minor to serious infectious or allergic diseases.

“The results of this study found that wind instruments could act as reservoirs of such diseases,” the researchers write. “Many of these microbes are highly resistant to some or most of the antibiotics normally used in general practice, including methicillin.”

Sterilize Band Instruments

The researchers tested 13 instruments of a small-town high school band. The instruments included saxophones, clarinets, oboes, and others commonly played by school bands. Seven of them were brass instruments; the other six were woodwinds. Half of them had been played within a week of testing, while the others had not been used for at least a month.

Researchers found 295 different types of bacteria in the 117 spots that were tested, which included the mouthpieces, internal chambers, and instrument cases. Several different types of infection-causing staphylococcus bacteria were identified in many of the instruments. Other bacteria -- including those associated with diarrhea, food poisoning, osteomyelitis, or bone infection, and other conditions -- were also discovered.

Many allergy-inducing yeasts and molds were also found. Several of those molds, the researchers write, are known to produce mycotoxins, which can be toxic to humans, animals, and plants.

These findings might sound alarming, but the researchers are not advising parents to withdraw their children from band. Instead, they recommend that instruments be routinely sterilized with solutions made specifically for that purpose.

"Instruments should be cleaned after each use to reduce the number of organisms," Academy of General Dentistry spokeswoman Cynthia Sherwood, DDS, FAGD, says in a news release. "And cleaning should not be confined to the mouthpiece, since the bacteria invade the entire instrument."

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