The ball pit that your kid loves to play in may be filled with more than just hundreds of colorful plastic spheres—it could also have dangerous infection-causing germs, according to a new study published in the American Journal of Infection Control.
Researchers at the University of North Georgia analyzed nine to 15 balls from six different ball pits at pediatric physical therapy offices across Georgia. They discovered that the balls were teeming with harmful germs, with one of the dirtiest pits having an average of 170,818 different bacteria on each ball.
“Ball pits are often contaminated with visible dirt, vomit, feces, or urine providing an origin and permissive environmental factors for microbial contamination,” the study reads, noting that the high levels of germs “clearly demonstrates an increased potential for transmission of these organisms to patients.”
In this specific study, researchers found 31 species of bacteria and one species of yeast in the ball pits. Nine of those were pathogens that can cause disease in humans, including Enterococcus faecalis, which can lead to urinary tract infections and meningitis, and Staphylococcus hominis, which can cause infections in the bloodstream.
“This research shows that ball pits may pose an infection hazard,” Karen Hoffmann, RN, president of the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology, told Science Daily, after the study suggested that some of the ball pits likely went days or even weeks without being cleaned.
Based on those results, Hoffman says there’s an obvious need for sanitation standards for these kinds of children play areas and urges facilities to “establish a program for regular cleaning to protect patients and healthcare workers from potential infection risks.”