OK my headline is a bit over the top. But it is reactionary to some over the top claims by a doctor from Arizona worried about germs in play areas.
The Sacramento Bee has an article about a crusade by a woman named Erin Carr-Jordan who is apparently trying to rally the troops around the country into worrying about microbes in play areas in fast food restaurants (see Campaign targets filth at fast-food playgrounds – Sacramento Business, Housing Market News | Sacramento Bee.)
Good to see many UC Davis faculty trying to put some calm into this story. The reporter Lynn La did a good job of presenting a dissenting point of view – that finding microbes in play areas is not surprising and may not be dangerous.
Now mind you – I am not saying that we should think that play areas are perfectly clean and safe. And it is not that bad an idea to consider that where there are lots of kids, and food, there may be bad germs. But as far as I can tell, the studies referred to here do little more than show that in samples from play areas one can culture microbes related to known pathogens. That does not alarm me. Microbes are of course everywhere. What we need are better ways to screen for actually bad microbes as opposed to just screening for potentially bad microbes. And we need to have some information on what it means to find actually bad microbes somewhere. For example, if E coli O157:H7 was on a play structure – how likely is it that a kid could become infected? I have no idea. But to interpret studies of this kind we need much more information.