Pacifiers, which are used by up to 85 percent of American babies, can be tainted with millions of harmful germs and fungi, from Staphylococcus aureus and Klebsiella pneumoniae to mold, according to a new study presented at the 2012 American Society for Clinical Pathology Annual Meeting in Boston, MA.
|Pacifiers are very popular but can
also be very dirty.
Researchers report that they found a wide range of disease-causing bacteria, fungus and mold on pacifiers that young children had been using.
A contaminated pacifier grows a biofilm, a slimy, glue-like coating that makes bacteria become increasingly resistant to both antibiotics and detergent. Once a biofilm forms, it can change the balance of microbes in a baby’s mouth and spark inflammation, boosting risk for ear infections and GI problems, including colic, the researchers report. Some pathogens found on pacifiers in the study have also been linked to heart disease, metabolic syndrome, allergies, asthma and autoimmune diseases.
"It’s very difficult to get rid of a biofilm, once it forms, particularly on an oral device," said study author Dr. Tom Glass, a professor of forensic sciences, pathology and dental medicine at Oklahoma State University. Dr. Glass has also studied dentures, orthodontic retainers, toothbrushes, and athletic mouth guards. “Under a microscope, pacifiers are full of porosities, like a sponge,” which soak up food and water, thus creating an ideal breeding ground for bacteria and fungi to form colonies.
The study authors collected 10 pacifiers from healthy infants at a pediatric clinic. They chopped up the nipples and shields finely, and put them in laboratory dishes designed to allow any bacteria or fungi that was present on the pacifiers to grow.
After 24 and 48 hours, the investigators compared the growth around the used pacifiers to the growth in dishes in which chopped-up new, unused pacifiers had been placed.
While half of the 10 used pacifiers were lightly contaminated, the other 5 were heavily contaminated (with levels reaching as high as 100 million colony-forming units per gram).
The researchers cultured 40 different species of bacteria from the 10 used pacifiers. One pacifier was contaminated with four different strains of Staphylococcus aureus. Yet, the unused pacifiers were found to be sanitary (with colony growths in the dishes less than 100 colony-forming units per gram).
What was particularly concerning, said Glass, was that many of the bacteria growing from the used pacifiers were resistant to commonly used antibiotics such as penicillin and methicillin.
The development of such resistance to certain antibiotics does not cause the organism to be more infectious than other strains that have no antibiotic resistance, but it can make the infection more difficult to treat.
Glass doesn't recommend that parents use pacifiers to calm their babies and toddlers. "After doing the study, I say why take a risk? The key is to recognize that pacifiers can cause illness," he said. "In the long run, it may be that what you do now [using a pacifier] may have a lot to do with whether your child ends up developing atherosclerosis or type 2 diabetes."
For those who still choose to use pacifiers, Glass recommends proper sanitation methods and taking other precautions.
What’s the Best Way to Sanitize Pacifiers?
If you choose to use pacifiers, there are easy ways to protect your baby’s health. The researchers advise these precautions:
- Any time a pacifier pops out of a baby’s mouth, it should be cleaned, no matter where it lands.
- Wash pacifiers with dish soap and water, then air dry; or soak them in denture-cleaning solution or baking soda solution (one teaspoon of baking soda dissolved in 8 ounces of water).
- Bring several pacifiers, stored in a clean baggie, on outings, so you have spares if one is dropped or soiled.
- Replace pacifiers every 2 weeks, so they don’t grow a disease-causing biofilm.
- Also replace your baby’s pacifiers after an illness, to avoid reinfection.
Labels: Children's Health, New Research, Pacifiers Germs Study