Background: Child-care facilities appear to provide daily opportunities for exposure and transmission of bacteria and viruses. However, almost nothing is known about the diversity of microbial contamination in daycare facilities or its public health implications. Recent culture-independent molecular studies of bacterial diversity in indoor environments have revealed an astonishing diversity of microorganisms, including opportunistic pathogens and many uncultured bacteria. In this study, we used culture and culture-independent methods to determine the viability and diversity of bacteria in a child-care center over a six-month period.
Results: We sampled surface contamination on toys and furniture using sterile cotton swabs in four daycare classrooms. Bacteria were isolated on nutrient and blood agar plates, and 16S rRNA gene sequences were obtained from unique (one of a kind) colony morphologies for species identification. We also extracted DNA directly from nine representative swab samples taken over the course of the study from both toy and furniture surfaces, and used "universal" 16S rRNA gene bacterial primers to create PCR-based clone libraries. The rRNA gene clones were sequenced, and the sequences were compared with related sequences in GenBank and subjected to phylogenetic analyses to determine their evolutionary relationships. Culturing methods identified viable bacteria on all toys and furniture surfaces sampled in the study. Bacillus spp. were the most commonly cultured bacteria, followed by Staphylococcus spp., and Microbacterium spp. Culture-independent methods based on 16S rRNA gene sequencing, on the other hand, revealed an entirely new dimension of microbial diversity, including an estimated 190 bacterial species from 15 bacterial divisions. Sequence comparisons and phylogenetic analyses determined that the clone libraries were dominated by a diverse set of sequences related to Pseudomonas spp., as well as uncultured bacteria originally identified on human vaginal epithelium. Other sequences were related to uncultured bacteria from wastewater sludge, and many human-associated bacteria including a number of pathogens and opportunistic pathogens. Our results suggest that the child-care facility provided an excellent habitat for slime-producing Pseudomonads, and that diaper changing contributed significantly to the bacterial contamination.
Conclusion: The combination of culture and culture-independent methods provided powerful means for determining both viability and diversity of bacteria in child-care facilities. Our results provided insight into the source of contamination and suggested ways in which sanitation might be improved. Although our study identified a remarkable array of microbial diversity present in a single daycare, it also revealed just how little we comprehend the true extent of microbial diversity in daycare centers or other indoor environments.