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15 March 2011
School musical instruments a health risk

School woodwind and brass instruments have been found to be heavily contaminated with a variety of bacteria and fungi that can cause serious infectious and allergic diseases, warns a study in the journal General Dentistry.

"Many children participate in their school's band ensemble and often the instruments they play are on loan," said study author R. Thomas Glass. "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."

For the study, mouthpieces, internal chambers and cases were tested on 13 previously played instruments of a high school band. Six of the instruments had been played within a week of testing, while seven hadn't been touched in about one month. The instruments produced 442 different bacteria, many of which were species of Staphylococcus, which can cause staph infections. Additionally, 58 molds and 19 yeasts were identified. The yeasts commonly cause skin infections around the mouth and lips ("red lips") while mold can contribute to the development of asthma.

The researchers found that many of the bacteria identified can cause illness in humans and are highly resistant to the antibiotics normally prescribed by general practitioners. This finding makes sterilization of instruments extremely important.

The study suggests that to avoid transmission of bacteria from instrument to player, parents and students should frequently wipe the surface of the instrument that comes into contact with the skin and mouth. The instrument should also be taken apart for thorough cleanings on a regular basis. "Cleaning should not be confined to the mouthpiece, since the bacteria invade the entire instrument," notes Glass.

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Source: Academy of General Dentistry

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