The plastic toys strewn across your child’s bedroom floor may be harboring harmful viruses, new research suggests.
Researchers at Georgia State University recently discovered that viruses, such as influenza, can cling to some toys for up to 24 hours -- long enough to increase a child’s risk of infection.
Experts say the lasting effect of viral contamination could be of particular concern in places where children share toys, such as daycare centers, doctor’s offices, and homes.
Previous studies have found that viral contamination is a risk in locations where toys are shared. But until now, scientists did not know how long viruses could survive on inanimate objects.
Children are vulnerable
Lead author Richard Bearden II of Georgia State University, says children’s tendency to put objects into their mouths makes them more vulnerable contracting infectious diseases from toys.
This tendency, combined with the fact that kids' immune systems aren't fully developed, puts them at an increased risk of coming down with a toy borne infection.
“People don’t really think about getting viruses from inanimate objects,” Bearden said in a statement. “They think about getting them from other people.”
But toys may be more likely than people to spread viruses, especially in places where toys are shared.
Researchers used an enveloped bacteriophage, a virus that infects bacteria, to mirror survival times in humans. The virus was placed on the toy in controlled humidity environments at 22 degrees celsius, at either 40 or 60 percent humidity.
Twenty-four hours later, 1% of the virus remained infectious on the toy at 60% relative humidity. But Bearden believes contamination could stick around even longer.
“It's likely the research team could have retrieved infectious virions beyond 24 hours,” he said.
What to do
To prevent infection from toys, Bearden says decontamination efforts are crucial.
“I think the main focus should be for parents, daycare facilities, doctor’s offices and other places where children share toys to implement some type of strategy for decontamination to make sure those toys aren’t a reservoir for disease,” he said.
To reduce the risk of contamination from shared toys, Bearden recommends the following strategies:
- Clean toys with household bleach
- Eliminate toys from waiting rooms in healthcare settings
- In addition to cleaning toys, decontamination plans could include door handles, elevator buttons, and other shared surfaces.
The study is published online in The Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal.