The Dangers of the Ball-Pit: Germ’s Favorite Playground

By Taylor McLamb

If you ask a mother for a baby wipe, there’s a large chance she’s going to have one. There’s a reason why this stereotype rings true, as children and germs seem to go hand in hand. It’s always good to be careful when it comes to kids, as they’re notorious for touching and grabbing anything that moves. If you’re taking your child to a public play area anytime soon, a recent study has shown that ball pits can be a field-day for germs.

The research looked specifically at ball pits located in physical therapy clinics. The University of North Georgia studied six ball-pits used for physical therapy in kids and discovered they contained 31 species of bacterial species and one species of yeast. According to the study, some of these bugs are responsible for pink eye, urinary tract infections, bloodstream infections, heart inflammation and more.

The study was specifically geared toward kids partaking in physical therapy and are thus at a higher risk due to their weak immune system. Therefore, it’s recommended that if your child attends a physical therapy center that has a ball pit, to be weary of letting them play in it.

“You might consider asking for no treatment in the ball pit. We definitely showed that there are things on the balls that can potentially hurt a child who is immune-compromised,” said senior study author Dobrusia Bialonska, assistant professor of environmental microbiology at the University of North Georgia.

While this study didn’t look at public ball pits located in popular restaurant chains and indoor playgrounds, the extent of the contamination found in the ball pits definitely showed that there needs to be a better way to clean the balls.

Bialonska said there are no standards or directions for cleaning these areas. Researchers also noted that there needs to be developed guidelines for cleaning the balls and the area when they are used for physical therapy in potentially vulnerable kids.

However, if your kid is healthy, there’s no reason to steer all kids away from ball pits, as it could actually help build their immune system but having that healthy sense of precaution and accessible sanity wipes is only normal.

Dr. Maryann Buetti-Sgouros, who is the chair of pediatrics at Northern Westchester Hospital in Mount Kisco, N.Y., reviewed the study.

“Common sense has to dictate how you address risks as a parent,” she said. “If there’s somewhere germy, what will you do to decrease the risk? A little bit of germs isn’t awful. Carry antibiotic wipes.”