How dangerous are the germs at your child’s playground and daycare?

Taxoplasma gondii can be found on playgrounds, and it can cause flu-like symptoms, a Canadian microbiologist says. JGI/Daniel Grill/Getty Images

Disinfectant wipes may be some parents’ best friend. Whether it’s on the playground or at home, it’s not uncommon to see parents run after their kids with wipes in an effort at preventing their little ones from getting sick.

But just how dirty are the places where your kids play?

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It’s no secret kids are little germ factories, microbiologist Jason Tetro says, so there’s bound to be germs floating around in places like playground and daycares – and even in one’s home.

“Daycares are essentially Petri plates,” Tetro says. “You’re definitely going to get a spread of different types of microbes.”

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This is largely due to kids not having figured out how to prevent the spread of germs, Tetro explains. For example, adults know to cover their mouths when they cough – children may not. Adults also know how to wash their hands properly after they use the washroom – kids, not so much.

Because of this, Tetro says, you’re going to have quite a bit of fecal coliform lying around. Other likely germs and pathogens you’ll have that could potentially cause disease are things like Staphylococcus aureus for the skin, Klebsiella pneumonia (which is usually found in urinary tract infections), streptococcus pygenes  (which can cause fever and is like a group A strep) and E. coli.

“Humans shed bugs a lot,” Tetro says. “The ones that normally cause infection are inside of us, but children have this amazing ability to spread the ones that are inside of us through different routes. So it’s not the fact that the kids are germier because they have the same amount of bacteria per cell as adults, it’s just that they don’t have the same ability as adults to prevent the spread when they’re shedding.”

Toys in these settings, Tetro says, should be cleaned with disinfectant with a concentration of between 62 and 70 per cent alcohol every day because of it being such a high-traffic area.

But don’t be fooled by the fact that your home can’t harbour those same germs, especially if you have multiple kids who play together or in the same area. While the traffic may not be as high, germs can still accumulate. In these circumstances, toys should be cleaned about once a week.

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Playgrounds, on the other hand, are a slightly different story.

READ MORE: Reality check: Are hand dryers in public bathrooms full of bacteria and fungi?

First off, the concentration of germs tends to be less than what’s found in daycares, Tetro explains.

Yes, germs and pathogens like the ones found in daycares can still be found on the playground, but because germs tend to dislike the sunlight, their lifespans are much shorter and their concentrations are lower.

“Once again it doesn’t come down to the nature of the playground, but rather the human density,” Tetro says. “And also because you’re in an outside environment, what is the animal traffic like?”

So in addition to the bugs that can be found in daycares, playgrounds can also carry pinworms, Toxoplasma gondii (which causes flu-like symptoms) and Toxocara. While Toxocara isn’t entirely bad, if it does get into the eye, it can cause a nasty eye infection.

But parents, don’t be afraid to let your kids play outside: it’s a good thing, Tetro says. It exposes your children to many different types of species of microbes in the soil, which is a good thing to build up their immune system.

“Many of those can be beneficial because they can help increase the diversity in and on your body, and we all know that diversity is incredibly good,” he says. “By keeping a higher diversity and being exposed to a wider variety of microbes, you’re lessening the chance of a pathogen taking hold. So that’s why we’re always saying to let kids play outside and let them get dirty.”

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