How dirty are bounce houses? We put them to the test

FORT MYERS, Fla. (WTSP) They’re fun. Kids love them.

It’s no doubt, bounce houses can add laughs and giggles at your child’s next party.
But Alayna Sanchez so she got more than that. She ended up with a night mare.

“It’s very contagious and they are spreading all over their body,” says Sanchez who rented a bounce house in Fort Myers for a birthday party for her children.

Sanchez believes that all of the children inside the bounce house got the infection MRSA after jumping around inside.

“I feel horrible as a parent that all these children are in pain,” says Sanchez. “They have blisters all over that are just oozing and getting bigger.”

The Department of Health says they cannot pinpoint where the children contracted MRSA, it could have spread from each other or inside the house but that would require further testing.

Not the first claim

Sanchez isn’t the first parent to make this claim.

There are photos swarming the internet that have gone viral over the past couple of months showing children who also contracted MRSA, and parents claiming it all came after their kids jumped around.

“The bacteria gets into that area and can have a chance to multiply and cause an area of infection,” says Marybeth Saunders, Medical Director for Infection Prevention and Epidemiology at Lee Memorial Health System. Saunders says MRSA is a painful bacterial infection.

Dr. Mobeen Rathore, the Chief of the Pediatric Infectious Disease and Immunology Department at Wolfson’s Children’s hospital, says “it is possible” that a child can catch MRSA in a bounce house.

“Children can get staph infections from many surfaces that have staph on them, including from a bounce house just as from wrestling mats, sharing equipment as was seen in football teams, Rathore said.

However, Rathore explained that “everyone’s skin has a lot of staph and strep bugs on it and most people do just fine.” If you have a cut or abrasion and come into contact with the staph infection, it is easier to get an infection, he explained

Just how dirty can a bounce house be?

We decided to put bounce houses to the test, not for the staph bacteria, but just an overall cleanliness test to see how dirty one of these houses of fun could be.
We rented three houses from three different companies.

And once they were set up, a lab tech from Thornton Laboratories met us on scene.

To swab not one, but three different areas. But first he swabbed an area that he cleaned himself.

“We’re going to disinfect an area about 144 square inches so that we have a base so we can compare. We are going to call this the blank,” says the tech from Thornton Laboratories located in Tampa.

After that, the swabbing began.

Three different areas on all three bounce houses. Then the swabs were taken to the Thornton Laboratories.

Days later the results were in.

The Results

“In are discussion, what to test for, we came down with keeping it simple. To do a total plate count measure of a wide variety of bacteria,” says Steve Fickett, Project Manager with Thornton Laboratories. “This is the test commonly used as a measure of sanitation.”

“When talking about bounce house number 1, on clean area we had less than one which says pretty much nothing is there,” says Fickett. “Then we have a spot that says 75 chloroform units which is still a fairly low number, another spot at 114 units and third swab 59. You can see it’s fairly consistent.”

Bounce house number two. The numbers were pretty good here too.
One spot 140. Second spot 77. And then 510.

“The 510 came from the floor in the middle of right side,” says Fickett.

But with the third house, those numbers were a bit more interesting.

Entrance by mesh door there were 3,100 chloroform units.
Second sample location was column on the right side, and that number was 5,520.

Then the third sample was 1,300.

“You see a big difference in sanitation levels of these three houses,” says Fickett.

Monitoring bounce house cleanliness

Inflatables like bounce houses, which are typically rented out, are inspected for safety in some states, but not for cleanliness. Keeping them sterile and bacteria-free is the responsibility of the owner.

In our video of Bounce House 1, it does look like the person who set it up did spray it down which could be why the tests showed a clean house.

But when you put all three houses side by side, they all looked clean.

“It’s beyond are normal vision to see beyond that bacteria,” says Fickett.

Fickett suggests asking the owners of the bounce houses what type of cleaning they do before they set up for your event or better yet, you can take a Lysol swipe and disinfect it yourself.

To prevent the spread of infections, here’s things to know:

•           Any time your child uses public equipment, have them bathe afterward.
•           If they have a cut or abrasion, make sure they clean it well.
•           If they get an infection, contact a pediatrician.

DOCUMENT: Results from our bounce house cleanliness tests

WINK News contributed to this report