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Keeping our athletes safe and hydrated

I was recently sitting in the bleachers of my son’s football game when I saw a few kids in the stands sharing a drink from a hydroflask.  I was instantly transported back to my college medical microbiology class. I remembered how at one time in history, scientists believed that organisms spontaneously generated from various objects or conditions.  If the Nile River flooded in Egypt, large amounts of nutrient mud were left behind when the waters receded.  They believed that the nutrient laden mud gave rise to frogs.  Or food that was left out would spontaneously generate maggots. This was the case until an Italian scientist by the name of Francisco Redi.  Redi proved that life generates life.  A fly can only be generated by another fly. Bacteria can only be generated from other bacteria.  Our college professor tried to demonstrate this by an experiment.  Each student took their own mouth culture and plated them out onto various Petri dishes.  Each dish had various bacterial cultures that could be identified.  Our professor would then take a sterile cotton swab and touch one cultured plate and place it on the plate from another person’s mouth.  Once the new plate had time to grow,  we saw that both bacterial cultures grew on the plate.

The above experiment gave rise to the next lesson, that is cross-contamination.  That was discussed a few weeks ago in another article on mymotherlode here.  In the case above, each kids saliva (bacteria) made its way back into the hydroflask (or other bottle).  After each drink, backwash occurs. This backwash introduces the drinker’s saliva and bacteria back into the bottle.  Thus the next person that drinks out of the container, is essentially consuming the other drinker’s bacteria.  Thus introducing foreign bacteria into their bodies.  Which increases the likelihood for an immune response and potential illness.  Two lessons here;  1) refrain from drinking after someone (drink only out of your own bottle), 2) clean and sanitize your bottle nightly.  If it is not cleaned nightly,  harmful bacteria can grow and multiply in that container.  This bacteria can get you sick!

However, our story doesn’t end there.  I then watched my son and his teammates gather around the portable water hydration station, lovingly called “the pig” ; think of a large 25 gallon water bottle with tubes and mouthpieces used for drinking.  Then it hit me,  how is this hydration system any different from that shared hydroflask mentioned earlier? You have 40 tired, sweaty athletes drinking, drooling, coughing on the hydration system.  Creating the perfect breeding ground for bacterial growth.  If these units are not cleaned and sanitized nightly (just like the water bottles above),  bacteria can grow from the shared saliva cocktail backwash; increasing the team’s chances of an illness outbreak.   I know that after practice, everyone is tired and adding another additional step to the already long day seems daunting.  But these are our kids, our future.  We need to do the right thing to ensure they’re protected and healthy.  Cleaning and sanitizing only takes an additional 5-10 minutes.

So before the next game or practice. Let’s make sure our kids are protected.  Clean and sanitize their drinking water vessels. This goes for the reusable Gatorade bottles too!

If you would like more information regarding water safety and cross-contamination, please contact Environmental Health or Public Health.

Rob Kostlivy, Director

Tuolumne County Environmental Health