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Dummies crawling with germs

WebMD UK Health News
Medically Reviewed by Dr Sheena Meredith

5th November 2012 - A new study has backed up many parents’ suspicions - dummies really are a gold mine for germs.

The study was designed to see if dummies were covered in germs but not to find out if children became sick from using a dummy.

Parents have enough to worry about without stressing about germs on dummies, says infectious disease specialist Dr Bruce Hirsch, of North Shore University Hospital in New York. "Germs are all around us," he says. "Of course, they are present on [dummies] and all kinds of things, and kids are great at putting all objects in their mouths."

New and used dummy germs

The study was small, with the researchers testing 10 used dummies taken from healthy infants, and seven new ones. Five of the used dummies were slightly contaminated, and the other five were heavily contaminated with bacteria including Staphylococcus aureus and Klebsiella pneumonia, and with various fungi. In all, the researchers found more than 40 different species of bacteria on the dummies.

New dummies also had bacteria, but not as much. "They don’t have as much because they are not exposed to food and water yet," says researcher Thomas Glass, a microbiology expert at Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences in the US.

The findings will be presented at the 2012 American Society for Clinical Pathology annual meeting in Boston US.

Controversial soothers

Dr Ranjit Singh of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health told BootsWebMD via e-mail: "Dummies (or soothers/pacifiers) have caused controversy over many decades with several reported benefits and problems. They are linked with a reduced chance of Sudden Infant Death ( cot death), promote sucking, can be analgesic, and have a soothing effect which can be especially important in babies in hospital.

"However, parents must also be aware of possible disadvantages, which include: interference with breastfeeding, increased risk of ear infections, dental problems and potential long-term reliance. The other more practical consideration is that they can easily become breeding grounds for bacteria since they spend most of their time in warm, moist places and come into contact with various things other than babies' mouths. There is a possibility that these bacteria could cause problems with infection, although there is no direct evidence for this.

"Therefore, parents should be careful about keeping them clean and sterilising them properly between uses.

"Dummies can be really useful and there is no clear-cut evidence of harm. However, if you are going to use them, then try not to use them unnecessarily and make sure that you have a good supply of clean, sterilised ones when you do."

How to clean a dummy

If your child uses dummies sterilise them each evening. Thomas Glass says: "Sanitising them can reduce the number of organisms and prevent biofilm from forming."

He suggests soaking three or four dummies overnight in denture solution, rinsing them and putting them in a bag. He recommends all used dummies are thrown out after two weeks and cautions that if your child is sick, replace all their dummies. "Pacifiers can become a reservoir, so if your infant becomes ill, throw away all pacifiers and start with new ones."

Also, if a dummy falls on the floor, don’t pick it up and put it back in the baby's mouth, Thomas Glass says.

Not everyone agrees with these precautions.

"A dirty pacifier may be a good thing," Dr Hirsch says. "Exposure to multiple types of bacteria early on in life can help an infant develop and sustain a healthy immune system."

These findings were presented at a medical conference. They should be considered preliminary as they have not yet undergone the "peer review" process, in which outside experts scrutinise the data prior to publication in a medical journal.

Additional BootsWebMD reporting by Nicky Broyd

Reviewed on November 05, 2012

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