Toys, books and cribs retain bacteria for long periods

University at Buffalo researchers published on Dec. 26 study results that showed two common bacteria that cause colds, ear infections and strep throat might live outside the human body longer than previously thought.

The study showed that Streptococcus pneumoniae and Streptococcus pyogenes can live on surfaces such as furniture, dishes and toys, and additional precautions are necessary to prevent infections.

"These findings should make us more cautious about bacteria in the environment since they change our ideas about how these particular bacteria are spread," Anders Hakansson, study author and assistant professor of microbiology and immunology in the UB School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, said. "This is the first paper to directly investigate that these bacteria can survive well on various surfaces, including hands, and potentially spread between individuals."

Hakansson said that S. pneumoniae is prevalent in daycare centers and is a leading cause of ear infections in children, as well as respiratory tract infections in children and the elderly. The bacteria can lead to pneumonia and sepsis in developing countries where antibiotics are not widespread.

Researchers found that four out of five stuffed toys in a daycare center tested positive for S. pneumoniae, and several surfaces tested positive for S. pyogenes after cleaning S. pyogenes causes strep throats and skin infections.

"Bacterial colonization doesn't, by itself, cause infection but it's a necessary first step if an infection is going to become established in a human host," Hakansson said. "Children, the elderly and others with compromised immune systems are especially vulnerable to these infections."

Researchers found that the bacterium has the ability to survive for a month, and can persist on books and soft and hard surfaces even after cleaning.