I think we can all go back in time and remember our first "stuffie", that best friend you dragged from place to place. That creature of comfort who you could not go to sleep without and heaven forbid if your mother absconded with your beloved for a quick trip through the wash! The travesty over thinking your beloved was gone forever when in fact your mother was simply looking out for your best interests in trying to keep it clean (and germ free!)
Last month, an interesting study titled "Biofilm Formation enhances Fomite Survival of S. pneumoniae and S. pyogenes" was published in the Journal of Infection and Immunity. S. pneumoniae a gram positive bacterium which is one of the most common agents associated with community-acquired pneumonias, accounting for up to 25% of these infections. It is also a common cause of bacterial meningitis, bacteraemia, and otitis media, as well as an important cause of sinusitis, septic arthritis, osteomyelitis, peritonitis, and endocarditis. S. pneumoniae is part of the normal upper respiratory tract flora, but, as with many natural flora, it can become pathogenic under the right conditions, like if the immune system of the host is suppressed. S. pyogenes which is a common bacterium thought to inhabit respiratory tracts of 5 - 15% of individuals, is also the cause of many important human diseases, ranging from mild superficial skin infections to life-threatening systemic diseases. Examples of mild S. pyogenes infections include pharyngitis ("strep throat") and localized skin infections ("impetigo"). It can also be the cause of dangerous infections such as scarlet fever and toxic shock syndrome. In the last century, infections by S. pyogenes claimed many lives especially since the organism was the most important cause of puerperal fever (sepsis after childbirth - recall the Dissenter Blog and Ignaz Semmelweiss the Father of Hand Hygiene?).
Thinking that disease causing bacteria cannot live long outside of the human body on inanimate objects - like dishes or toys – the researchers from the University at Buffalo New York looked specifically at two strains of Streptococcus. Instead they found that bacteria associated with strep throat and ear infections could survive outside the body for long periods on toys at a day care center. The results clearly demonstrate that while planktonic cells that are desiccated rapidly lose viability both on hands and abiotic surfaces such as plastic, biofilm bacteria remain viable over extended periods of time outside the host while still remaining infectious. Of the surfaces they tested 4 of 5 stuffed toys tested positive for S. pneumonaie, while the cribs were found to harbor S. pyogenes.
The belief is that these bacteria form into biofilms allowing them to survive. The conclusion being that commonly handled objects that are contaminated with this biofilm bacteria could act as reservoirs of bacteria for hours, weeks or months perpetuating the spread of potentially infectious pathogens to those (children or adults) that come in contact with them.
There are times I could easily live in a bubble, but I choose not to freak out too much and try my best to remember to wash my hands before putting food into my mouth. Unfortunately, as I tucked my son into bed and got the prerequisite snuggle from his best bud "Patchy-Patch" the thought crossed my mind that I could not remember the last time I threw him in the wash.....I did stop myself from washing my mouth out with soap to counteract the potential plethora of bugs but rest assured Patchy-Patch is headed for the laundry this weekend!