Teddy Bears Can Spread Infections

Reviewed by Gary D. Vogin, MD
From the WebMD Archives

Feb. 1, 2002 -- What child doesn't have a beloved stuffed animal? One that gets toted everywhere, maybe even to school. But sharing teddy may not be such a good idea, according to New Zealand researchers. When they tested stuffed toys from doctor's waiting rooms, they found that 90% were contaminated with infectious bacteria.

"Children, many with infectious diseases such as those causing diarrhea, are likely to be handling toys and putting them in their mouths. The next child to play with these toys may thus be exposed to pathogens that could make them ill," write researcher Paul Corwin, from Christchurch School of Medicine, and colleagues.

Their findings appear in the February issue of the British Journal of General Practice.

The team tested 10 soft and 22 hard toys taken from the waiting rooms of six group medical practice offices. The hard toys were much cleaner overall. None had heavy contamination, while 20% of soft toys showed moderate-to-heavy contamination with diarrhea-causing agents, and 90% showed moderate-to-heavy bacterial contamination.

What's more, when they looked at another batch of toys, those that came from the day care center and public library had contamination rates similar to doctor's offices that did not regularly clean their toys, the researchers report.

Not only were the hard toys less likely to become contaminated, they were also easy to clean with commercial disinfectant spray. In contrast, even running the teddies through a washing machine and dryer "was found to be inadequate, with high bacteria counts present after cleaning," the researchers write.

But, they add, soaking the soft toys in a bleach solution for 30 minutes, and then machine washing and drying, did effectively reduce bacterial contamination.

The take-home message for parents? Don't be fooled. Just because that teddy bear looks cute, cuddly, and clean, it could still make your child sick. The best strategy? Don't let your kids play with stuffed toys in public facilities; keep stuffed toys out of the hands of sick children; and make sure that your child's favorite teddy gets a long soak in disinfectant from time to time.