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News / March 16, 2011

Musical instruments strike toxic note for hygiene

by Guy Hiscott

A US study reveals that musical instruments are a breeding ground for disease.

Researchers at the Oklahoma State University examined brass and woodwind instruments shared by school students and found they were germ-laden and acted as potential ‘reservoirs of disease’.

Micro-organisms linked to asthma, skin infections and other illnesses and allergies were found on 13 instruments used by a high school band.

These findings were reported in a study published in the March/April issue of the journal, General Dentistry.

More than half of the instruments, which included clarinets, trombones, trumpets, saxophones and oboes, hadn’t even been used in the previous month.

While the study was small, it struck a sour note for disease transmission, said lead author Dr R Thomas Glass, professor of forensic sciences, pathology and dental medicine; adjunct professor of microbiology at Oklahoma State University Health Sciences Center.

Researchers took swabs from 117 sites on mouthpieces, internal chambers and cases. They found: • 442 different bacteria, including species of staphylococcus
• 58 types of mould and 19 yeasts (similar to those often found on dentures, athletic mouthguards and toothbrushes).

While most contamination was in reeds and mouthpieces, there were enough microbes at midpoints and opposite ends of the instruments to transmit illnesses and expose the musicians to toxins, the study found.

According to anecdotal reports from the teacher, half the band students at any given time had experienced respiratory ailments like asthma or bronchitis.

Dr Glass says he doesn’t want to alarm parents or discourage music participation, but ‘we want them to be aware that musical instruments can transmit diseases’, even after long periods without being played.

He says players should take apart their instruments each week and wipe with a damp cloth to remove the biofilm that acts as a breeding ground for germs.

Music stores also sell chemical dips that can be used to sanitise.

He also recommends sterilising an instrument with ethylene oxide every time it is passed along to a new player, which can be done at music shops various industrial sterilisation facilities.

If it is only used by one player, sterilise once a year, or if the child experiences recurrent infections.