Numerous scientific studies have concluded that two common bacteria that cause colds, ear infections, strep throat and more serious infections cannot live for long outside the human body. So conventional wisdom has long held that these bacteria won’t linger on inanimate objects like furniture, dishes or toys.
But University at Buffalo research published today in Infection and Immunity shows that Streptococcus pneumoniae and Streptococcus pyogenes do persist on surfaces for far longer than has been appreciated. The findings suggest that additional precautions may be necessary to prevent infections, especially in settings such as schools, daycare centers and hospitals.
“These findings should make us more cautious about bacteria in the environment since they change our ideas about how these particular bacteria are spread,” said senior author Anders Hakansson, PhD, assistant professor of microbiology and immunology in the UB School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. “This is the first paper to directly investigate that these bacteria can survive well on various surfaces, including hands, and potentially spread between individuals.”
S. pneumoniae, a leading cause of ear infections in children and morbidity and mortality from respiratory tract infections in children and the elderly, is widespread in daycare centers and a common cause of hospital infections, says Hakansson. And in developing countries, where fresh water, good nutrition and common antibiotics may be scarce, S. pneumoniae often leads to pneumonia and sepsis, killing one million children every year.
S. pyogenes commonly causes strep throat and skin infections in school children but also can cause serious infection in adults.
The UB researchers found that in the day care center, four out of five stuffed toys tested positive for S. pneumonaie and several surfaces, such as cribs, tested positive for S. pyogenes, even after being cleaned. The testing was done just prior to the center opening in the morning so it had been many hours since the last human contact.