What would bath time be without classic bath toys like squeaky rubber duckies? A lot safer says one mama who recently went viral after sharing the story of how a bath toy—or rather the water trapped inside one—seriously injured her 2-year-old. In her now-viral Instagram post mom Eden Strong explains how her toddler's eye became infected after he squirted himself in the face with the water inside a rubber ducky tub toy. Very quickly her son went from having an irritated eye to needing IV antibiotics and a CT scan to determine if his vision was damaged (thankfully he did not suffer long-term vision problems). You may have seen the photos Strong posted to Facebook and Instagramas other parents and major news outlets have been sharing them in an effort to educate parents about tub toys and how they can harbor potentially pathogenic bacteria...even when they look clean. "I think what has shocked me the most is that my inbox is completely full of parents sharing similar stories and pictures of their children," Strong tells Motherly. She's now wondering why such toys are still being manufactured and marketed to parents when the stories of other parents and scientific research suggest we should toss the ducks.
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Research on bacteria found in bath toysWhat Strong learned though her son's experience was also noted in a study published in the journal Biofilms and Microbiomes back in 2018. Researchers found "potentially pathogenic bacteria" in four out of five bath toys examined. For the study, Swiss and American researchers looked at the biofilm communities inside 19 bath toys collected from random households as well as six toys used in controlled clean or dirty water conditions. They found that all of the examined bath toys “had dense and slimy biofilm" on their inner surfaces. What's more, 56% of the real-use toys and all of the dirty-water toys had fungi build up. Although the researchers note exposure to bacteria and fungi may have some benefits, the strong existence of grime in bath toys is still concerning. They note, “Squeezing water with chunks of biofilm into their faces (which is not unexpected behavior for these users) may result in eye, ear, wound or even gastro-intestinal tract infections." So, pretty much what happened to Strong's son (even though she did regularly clean them, because they're impossible to clean).
Strong actually reached out to the lead author of the 2018 study, Swiss microbiologist Frederick Hammes.In a piece for Yahoo!Life, Strong recalls Hammes explaining how "the design of the squeezable toys with a water hole means you always have a bit of water remaining in the toy, which gives enough humidity for bacteria, and certainly for fungi, to grow." Like Strong, Hammes would like to see more regulations on the polymeric materials used for many bath toys, and/or a warning label to let parents to the design problem inherent in many bath toys. For parents, however, there is one simple solution—it just comes at the cost of rubber duckie's squeak. “In fact, the easiest way to prevent children from being exposed to bath toy biofilms is to simply close the hole," the researchers noted in 2018. Something like this water-tight duck is just as fun in the tub but minimizes the risk of infection. [A version of this post originally appeared April 13, 2018. It has been updated.]