Clean Up Your Axe: Long-term Illness linked to Goop Inside Trombone

In 6th grade–don’t ask me how–I got a die stuck in my trumpet. You know, the cube with dots on it? Two of them is dice, one is die. English is sure a weird language. Anyway, one of the chapters I wanted to put in my books, both Sound the Trumpet: How to Blow Your Own Horn  and All About Trumpet was a chapter on how to clean the instrument, because there were no books available with that information.

A recent story made me realize cleaning your horn is a lot more important than just having speedy valves and good air flow. Turns out some nasty things can grow in the horn, too, stuff that can make you sick.

Trombonist Scott Bean had a long-term illness caused by what was living in his trombone, which he didn’t clean very often. Growing inside Scott Bean’s ‘bone was a mold called fusarium (among other things), and he was allergic to it. The NPR show All Things Considered carried the story, which you can listen to here. Here’s a snippet of the story:

Dr. Mark Metersky took this picture of what's living in Scott Bean's trombone.

Mark Metersky, a professor at the University of Connecticut Medical School’s division of pulmonary and critical care took this picture of what’s living in Scott Bean’s trombone. The pink rods are Mycobacterium chelonae-abscessus species organisms. The round blue things are cells from the mucus membranes of Bean’s mouth.

“He also grew a type of bacteria called a mycobacterium, sort of a cousin of tuberculosis,” Metersky says.

This stuff inside the trombone was causing an allergic reaction, which led to hypersensitivity pneumonitis, a severe inflammation of the lungs. Microscopic organisms were breaking off and getting into Bean’s lungs each time he inhaled.

Mold and bacteria could grow in any brass instrument. And for most players, it wouldn’t matter much, except maybe aesthetically. But for a subset of people who react to these organisms, it’s no joke. Metersky set out to see how common a problem it was. He asked several professional musicians if he could culture the insides of their trombones and trumpets for a pilot study.

“Things plopped out,” Metersky says. “It was disgusting. Imagine the worst thing you’ve found in your refrigerator in food that you’ve left for a few months, and that was coming out of these instruments.”

Metersky stopped testing after 10 instruments, because they all were contaminated. His findings are published in this month’s issue of the pulmonary journal Chest. There’s also a separate case report on hypersensitivity pneumonitis from a contaminated saxophone.

I think I might start using isopropyl alcohol to clean the horn because that will kill whatever’s growing in there.

Here are a couple videos I posted a while ago on other aspects of cleaning the horn, greasing the slides and oiling the valves. Hope it helps.

3 thoughts on “Clean Up Your Axe: Long-term Illness linked to Goop Inside Trombone

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