Most of us have grown out of the “five second rule” — if we drop a french fry on the ground in Commons, we would never pick it up and eat it. But we may have moved on to something worse: later that night, we won’t think twice before downing a Solo cup of beer filled with a pong ball that had been under the couch in a frat, rolling in germs, dirt, hair and dust, any worries about the germs swimming in pong cups easily written off by a carefree buzz.
Such fleeting consideration comes at a hefty price, however. Samples collected from beer pong cups taken shortly after a three-hour game as part of a 2006 undergraduate microbiology lab at The George Washington University all grew bacteria from the E. coli, pneumonia and salmonella families. According to University of Kansas Medical Center’s Jan Hudzicki, beer pong can spread strep throat, pneumonia and other infections, whose symptoms range from the bothersome, like diarrhea and nausea, to the frightening, such as fevers and meningitis. Additional studies found that contracting influenza and the Epstein-Barr Virus (mono) is very possible during a game of beer pong with shared cups because these viruses are transferred through saliva.
Students frequently use the same set of cups from game to game, and so sharing drinks in this way is essentially sharing drinks with the person who played the game before you — as well as all of the other people that they have played with in the past.
And sadly, the alcohol in beer does not kill germs as readily as one might hope. In its purest form, alcohol takes 20 seconds to kill bacteria; beer pong players trying to hold their own in a game wouldn’t dream of asking opponents to wait minutes until the dilute alcohol in their Coors Light sanitized the liquid. Instead, most players dunk the ball in to a water cup — the cup found to be most germ-laden of all, according to the GWU researchers.
There is a bit of good news, however: The Centers for Disease Control recently refuted a claim that herpes can be spread directly through beer pong (although herpes has become more prevalent this decade). And for those of you who can still stomach a game of beer pong, there are precautions you can take to lessen your risk of contracting the diseases borne by the organisms swimming in your drink. Though it’s a bit more expensive and less environmentally friendly, starting each game with a new set of cups will minimize risk of contamination from previous players. Changing the water cup frequently also decreases potential infections.
True germaphobes should keep their own personal cups to pour a share of the beer into, minimizing contact with their partner’s saliva in the triangle formation cups. And for those of us with no shame, Hudzicki recommends that students wipe off the balls that have hit the floor with Clorox disinfecting wipes.
But don’t forget that germs from the floor and your partner do not alone a dangerous game make: excess alcohol consumption in beer pong poses a greater health threat than almost any virus or disease. And in April of last year, a 25-year-old man was shot and killed after an argument over who had to drink the remaining beer of their pong game.
Are you still willing to restack?
Rebecca Stern is a sophomore in Berkeley College.