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Making Music, Staying Healthy

Making Music, Staying HealthyA company founded by a Tufts School of Dental Medicine graduate is trying to take the bacteria out of band practice.

Boston [10.02.06] In 1997, when the Medford, Mass., high school band teacher approached Dr. Lorenzo Lepore with questions about sterilization procedures for musical instruments, Lepore was surprised to find there were none already in place. Sensing a public safety issue among students who regularly share instruments, the Tufts graduate (A'74, D'77) took the matter into his own hands.

"We are just creating awareness and offering a way to make something better," Lepore, an avid clarinet player and dentist, told The Boston Globe about his company, Encore Etc. Inc., which he founded to sterilize wind instruments.

The problem, Lepore told the Globe, arises when instruments are simply wiped down and stored away for the summer, creating a potential breeding environment for bacteria, before being redistributed in the fall.

"It doesn't mean you'll get sick if you use them, but it's like picking up a water bottle off a park bench: You just wouldn't do it," he told the Globe.

To test his theories, he had tests done on various music instruments, including some pulled at random from store shelves, and found live, disease-causing bacteria, including staph, inhabiting the instruments. According to the Globe and the Associated Press, additional lab tests involving the placement of strep throat and tuberculosis germs inside instruments found that 30 percent of the germs in the instruments survived after three weeks.

Lepore's process, called MaestroMD, uses the same technology used to sterilize sensitive medical instruments—blasting the instruments, still in their cases, with ethylene oxide gas. This method is used, Lepore explained to the Globe because musical instruments have parts made of rubber, wood, cork and other material that wouldn't withstand a heat-based cleaning.

Medford High—where Lepore played saxophone and clarinet and was president of the school band—was the first school to sign up for the service, and the company is widely marketing its services to other school districts.

While using an unsterilized instrument does not guarantee infection, Lepore sees his service as a safeguard against illness.

"People haven't connected the dots on that," he told the Associated Press. "People get sick all the time and don't know where they got it."


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