Pong flu: Clemson students find bacteria risk in beer pong

No beer pong? What is college life without beer pong?

In 2008, some publication at the University of California at Los Angeles – UCLA – warned students that beer pong, a communal drinking game, could be a source of infectious disease like herpes.

In 2009, students at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., were asked to refrain salm.beer.pong.beerfestfrom playing beer pong after an outbreak of illness that officials feared might be swine flu.

Now, a group of Clemson University students report that pingpong balls used in beer pong games across campus are loaded with bacteria. More research found that dangerous bacteria such as salmonella, listeria, E. coli and staph on the balls end up in the beer when players make successful tosses into glasses.

The research is part of Clemson’s Creative Inquiry program, in which students pose common-sense scientific questions, then plan research to find the answers. Previous classes have debunked the five-second rule that food is safe to eat as long as it is quickly picked up after falling on the floor and shown that double-dipping chips can pose a health hazard.

The research didn’t surprise Billy Gains, the owner of BPONG, a group that organizes annual national beer pong tournaments.

After tournaments in Las Vegas, Gains said, some participants have complained about coming down with “pong flu.”

“Maybe there is something there,” Gains said. “But I think it is nothing to do with being sick. I think they are partying all night and get worn down.”

Beer pong: Breeding grounds for disease?

I still own a house in Guelph, Canada, that I rent to students. Last time Amy and I were in Guelph retrieving vestiges of my past – like milk cartons full of vinyl record albums, or Johnny Bower vintage goalie equipment, both of which stayed in Guelph and were donated to others – we noticed the double garage had been converted into a ping pong playing and viewing space, complete with an elevated chair for the referee.

Same with our student neighbors in Manhattan (Kansas). The living room contains a ping pong table.

When not trying to do their best Forrest Gump, these students are probably fans of beer pong, featured in the 2007 movie, Beerfest (below).

According to some UCLA publication,

Last month, CO-ED Magazine reported that there has been an increase of orally-transmitted herpes due to the not-so-sanitary game of beer pong. …

When playing beer pong, you have a possibility of getting any type of disease transferable via saliva.

The story has some stuff about throat gonorrhea which could possibly be transmitted or mono. Doubtful. The last tip, however, caught my eye:

“If you and your friends are the type to play practical jokes on each other (say light each other’s crotches on fire), I’d keep an eye out for them in beer pong. Their next brilliant idea may be to use toilet water to fill the ball-rinsing cup. If so, you could find yourself in a state of nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and fever—due to feces-contaminated water. Let’s hope you’re up-to-date with your Hepatitis A vaccination.”