Indoor playgrounds are found in almost all malls in the Philippines and it’s heaven-sent for parents who want their kids to to play, socialize with other kids, and use all their pent-up energy. But if your kids frequent these playgrounds, you might want to think twice before letting them dive into ball pits — a recent U.S. study found that ball pits contain a lot of infection-causing germs and bacteria that can make your kids sick.
Researchers at the University of North Georgia examined six ball pits located in physical therapy clinics in the state of Georgia and randomly selected nine to 15 balls as samples. They found that the balls contained “bacterial colonization as high as thousands of cells per ball,” with eight bacteria and one yeast that could cause disease. One of the balls also contained microorganisms at 170,818 colony-forming unit.
The study, which was published in the American Journal of Infection Control, stated that “ball pits are often contaminated with visible dirt, vomit, feces, or urine providing an origin and permissive environmental factors for microbial contamination.” Their findings clearly demonstrate “an increased potential for transmission of these organisms to patients and an increased possibility of infection.”
In all, researchers identified 31 bacterial species and one species of yeast, including:
The researchers suggest that the clinics involved in the study may have let days or even weeks pass by between cleanings, which allows microorganisms to accumulate and grow to levels capable of transmission and infection. “This risk increases if the individual has skin lesions or abrasions, providing a portal of entry for immunocompromised individuals in general,” said the study.
“This research shows that ball pits may pose an infection hazard,” said Karen Hoffman, president of the U.S. Association for Professionals in Infection Control. “Facilities should establish a program for regular cleaning to protect patients and healthcare workers from potential infection risks.”
Though the results are alarming, the study does not mean to say that all parents should be wary of taking their kids to ball pits. “We’re talking about pediatric physical therapy patients that may have some immune problems and may be more fragile,” said Dobrusia Bialonska, the study’s senior study author and assistant professor of environmental microbiology at the University of North Georgia, to WebMD. “If kids are healthy, let them go and play. It may help build their immune system.”
Then again, we think indoor playgrounds in our country should still take note of the study’s recommendations. With the number of kids playing in indoor playgrounds on a daily basis, hygiene and sanitization should be a priority.
If you are unsure, it would be best to ask the staff about their cleaning schedule and routine. You may ask whether the balls and toys used in the playground are sterilized, washed, and disinfected and how often they clean the play areas.
Your kids should also practice proper hygiene. Have them wash their hands or use a hand sanitizer after play to kill most bacteria and viruses on contact. Experts say it’s still the best vaccine against illnesses!