Bacteria in band instruments could cause respiratory problems -


Bacteria in band instruments could cause respiratory problems

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When steroids and antibiotics couldn't cure the cough of a clarinet player, doctors examined his lungs and found a mass of fungus living inside.

Later, he confessed to not having cleaned his instrument for over 30 years.

Physicians diagnosed the man with a condition known as saxophone lung which is inflammation of the lung tissue.

If you have children who are in a band or orchestra, beware.

Among the woodwind and brass section, there likely exists bacteria and mold. Some staph infections can cause infections from brain swelling to saxophone lung.

"That's really disgusting," said Chris Rydel, manager of the Charlotte Symphony Youth Orchestra.

Rydel says he actually sees similar instrument-inducing infections all the time.

"They've been using the same reed for three years and it has black mold on it," Rydel added.

Dr. Joshua Stokell is a professor in the Department of Biology at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.  

"Does it not have an interesting taste?" Stokell asked.

Rydel says some students throw away their old reeds, but others just shrug it off like its no big deal.

Instruments with mouthpieces provide a warm, wet reservoir for germs. Some are overflowing into puddles of dribble on the floor.

Others are collecting an interior build-up of gunk almost like plaque on the teeth.

"They actually scrape it off with their fingernail instead of washing it," Rydel said referring to how some teens remove it.  

"Even if they're your cooties, it's about where the bacteria are in your body," Rydel said.  

Day after day, those spores are breathed into the lungs and then back out into the public where they're able to produce infectious diseases and respiratory conditions like asthma.

"Washing your hands is great, but you really can't wash out your lungs," Stokell said.

What's lurking inside these instruments is especially problematic for anyone who rents its to someone else, Stokell warns.

"Bacteria can live up to and over a month on the surfaces, especially on the mouthpiece," Stokell said.

You can't assume the last owner or the rental company sanitized it before passing it into new hands.

The best advice is to clean the mouthpiece regularly with warm, soapy water and a cotton swab.

"I take really, really long to clean this, because I'm kinda like germaphobic," said Kelly Kim who is a member of the Charlotte Symphony Youth Orchestra.

She cleans her instrument daily with several absorbent cloths and cleans them, too. Kim also has her instrument professionally sanitized regularly.

Each instrument has different cleaning and care recommendations and they're there for a reason.

"You can either take a few minutes to clean it or a few days over an illness!" Stokell said.

While it might sound like an old song, a thorough instrument cleaning is the tried and true cure to guard against saxophone lung or other respiratory conditions.

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