Ball pits used in children's physical therapy, similar to those made popular by restaurants catering to families, may contribute to germ transmission between patients, according to new research.
The popularity of ball pits has increased since mainstream commercial restaurants installed them nationwide for children in the 1980s, and they are often found to be contaminated with visible dirt, vomit, feces, or urine, providing a permissive environment for contamination. Similar ball pits are commonly used in pediatric physical therapy to provide stimulation to children with sensory or motor impairments.
According to the study, clinics may go days or even weeks between cleanings, allowing time for microorganisms to accumulate and grow to levels capable of giving children infections and making them sick.
The study found considerable microbial colonization in ball pits that were tested, including eight bacteria and one yeast that could cause disease
Bacterial colonization was found to be as high as thousands of cells per ball, clearly demonstrating an increased potential for transmission of these organisms to patients and an increased possibility of infection.
The human-associated bacteria found in the ball pits included:
Enterococcus faecalis, which can cause endocarditis, septicemia, urinary tract infection, and meningitis;
Staphylococcus hominis, a cause of bloodstream infections and reported as a cause of sepsis in a neonatal intensive care unit;
Streptococcus oralis, known to cause endocarditis, adult respiratory distress syndrome, and streptococcal shock;
Acinetobacter lwofii, which has been reported to cause septicemia, pneumonia, meningitis, and urinary tract and skin infections.