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Musical instruments may have germs

Woodwind and brass players beware—the same horn that creates melodic tones might also be harboring a darker note—bacteria and fungi that risk a musician’s health.

In a recent study, researchers worked with a small-town high school band to examine the microbial flora in woodwind and brass instruments and their potential to transmit diseases.

They cultured 13 previously played instruments, including two clarinets, two oboes, two saxophones, two mellophones, two trombones, two trumpets and one cornet. Six instruments had been played within a week of testing and the other seven had not been played for more than one month.

Scientists looked for germs in a total of 117 distinct testing sites, including mouthpieces and reeds, internal chambers and cases of the instruments and found more than 400 bacteria, 19 yeasts and 58 molds that could risk a musician’s health.

“Parents may not realize that the mold in their child’s instrument could contribute to the development of asthma,” said Dr. R. Thomas Glass, lead author of the study in the March/April issue of General Dentistry. He recommends musicians use cleaning cloths and solutions made for musical instruments and not to share their instruments with others.

Researchers said harmful contaminants were found in instruments whether they were played recently or not. Though the reeds or mouthpieces were consistently more contaminated, the midpoints and bells had enough microorganisms to expose the musicians to toxins and produce disease. Even instrument cases were contaminated.

Researchers say the results indicate that woodwind instruments were more heavily contaminated than brass instruments; reeds were significantly more contaminated that mouthpieces and clarinets were more contaminated than any other instruments.

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