Health Team

Germs lurking in school band instruments

Posted April 12, 2011 5:45 p.m. EDT
Updated April 12, 2011 6:43 p.m. EDT

Used instruments shared in many schools' band and music classes may be crawling with potentially harmful germs, reveals a new study in the Academy of General Dentistry journal.

Woodwind and brass instruments are especially prone to become breeding grounds for bacteria, researchers found, because many students share instruments or buy them second hand.

Researchers tested the mouthpieces, chambers and cases of 13 high school band instruments -- six had been recently played, but the other seven hadn't been touched in months.

They found 442 different types of bacteria lurking in the instruments, including strains that can cause staph or upper respiratory infections or fungal infections in or around the mouth, said Dr. Eugene Antenucci of the Academy of General Dentistry. 

"(If) you have an upper respiratory condition of some kind that just came on, you may want to take your instrument and have it professionally sterilized," Antenucci said.

Experts stressed that regular cleaning of the instruments is key to killing bacteria. Special cleaning kits specifically for instruments are available. Students should use a soft cloth to wipe surfaces that come in contact with the skin and mouth after every use, and should use a sanitizing spray on the mouthpiece occasionally, especially after someone is sick, experts added.

Researchers said children with breathing problems like asthma should be especially careful using instruments because bacteria can worsen their condition.