Scientists Identify Thousands of Germs in Plastic Ball Pits

Ball pits have long been a source of fun and frolic for children—and for parents looking to take a breather—but a new study warns what we have all feared: ball pits are, essentially, a cesspool of infection-causing germs.  

The simple University of North Georgia study randomly pulled between 9 and 15 plastic balls out of six ball pits located at inpatient and outpatient physical therapy clinics.  And analyzing the balls, the researchers say they found 31 types of bacteria that can cause any number of infections like meningitis to pneumonia to urinary tract infections, and even sepsis. 

In addition the study revealed that these ball pits can go “days or even weeks between cleanings.” And this, of course, can give the bacteria time to not only accumulate, but multiply to levels that are capable of transmitting the infection to other people.  

In a recent report on the study, the authors comment, “Bacterial colonization was found to be as high as thousands of cells per ball, which clearly demonstrates an increased potential for transmission of these organisms to patients and the possibility of infection in these exposed individuals.”

In addition, lead study author Mary Ellen Oesterle, EdD, PT, “We found considerable variation in the number of microorganisms between the different ball pit samples.  This suggests that clinics utilize different protocols for cleaning and maintenance, potentially representing a broader need to clarify and establish standards that reduce the risk of transmission.”

Obviously, this alarming study sheds much needed light on two important things.  For one, we now have a better idea what types of risks might be present to children in these public play spaces.  Secondly, though, it draws attention to an even more desperate need for standardizing cleaning and sanitizing practices for these ball pits to ensure that children are not exposed to any harmful contaminants. That is, of course, if we do not simply conclude that maybe it is time to find another way to preoccupy children at these health clinics. 

The findings for this study were published last month in the American Journal of Infection Control.