Beer pong enthusiasts could be at risk for diseases

While contracting mono from beer pong is unlikely, the game is far from healthy.

University of Minnesota seniors Christopher Meskimen and Phillip Petersen team together for a game of beer pong in their basement Sunday.  Neither said they would be affected by the discontinuation of the game in bars since they prefer to play at home.

Image by Ashley Goetz

University of Minnesota seniors Christopher Meskimen and Phillip Petersen team together for a game of beer pong in their basement Sunday. Neither said they would be affected by the discontinuation of the game in bars since they prefer to play at home.

Duped by a study he now says was bunk, political science senior Casey Kussatz changed his house rules for beer pong, making people fill the cups with water and drink from their beers on the side. âÄúIt said that the incidence of herpes and mono had gone up with the rise of popularity of beer pong âĦ but the study was bogus,âÄù he said. Still, Kussatz said he and his roommates continue to play by these rules because itâÄôs cleaner. Beer pong is a popular drinking game that involves pairs of players trying to land a pingpong ball into the opposing teamâÄôs cups of beer. Dr. Hank Balfour said Kussatz is right: ItâÄôs unlikely that mononucleosis would be transmitted through beer pong. But bacterial infections such as oral herpes and strep throat could still be passed. The University of Minnesota Clinical Virology Research Program is currently studying mono in a number of ways, Balfour said. One study is following first- and second-year students through four years at the University, tracking when and if they contract the mono-causing Epstein-Barr virus , which can leave students feeling run-down and sick for weeks at a time. Another study is analyzing students who have recently contracted mono and researchers are still looking for participants, he said. Approximately 20 percent of students contract mono each year, Balfour said. But only about one in 10 would be considered a high risk for transmitting the virus through social activities such as beer pong. However, risk for disease or not, the game is far from hygienic. âÄúWhen the ball hits the ground, when it comes up it can be pretty gnarly,âÄù said advertising senior Paul Stiver . âÄúThe beauty of it is the cleaning system. You just throw it in the water cup. Once itâÄôs got the water âĦ itâÄôs just naturally clean.âÄù Stiver said heâÄôs unsure if heâÄôs ever gotten sick from playing beer pong. âÄúWhen youâÄôre drinking, you donâÄôtâÄô really consider it to be that big of a worry,âÄù he said, even when the ball comes back full of hair and rocks from the floor. âÄúYou just keep playing, power through.âÄù Stiver said he was sick a few weeks ago after a night of playing beer pong, but âÄúit could have been a number of factors.âÄù Balfour said students would be at a higher risk for contracting a disease, especially mono, in a setting like a large house party or a bar. More people mean itâÄôs more likely someone has had mono recently, and they could be what Balfour calls a âÄúsuper transmitterâÄùâÄî someone with a million or more copies of the virus per milliliter of oral fluids. Most cases of mono have an average of 50,000 copies per milliliter, he said. Balfour suggests bars hosting public beer pong could offer a fact sheet about the possibilities of disease and make sure there are enough cups and places to wash the ball. In Dinkytown, bars like Burrito Loco and the Blarney Pub and Grill have offered public beer pong. An owner at Blarney who refused to give his name said the bar no longer hosts the Tuesday night beer pong tournaments advertised on its website. Calls and e-mails to Burrito Loco management were not returned. Stiver and Kussatz both said they didnâÄôt think people should be able to hold the bars responsible if they become ill after playing public beer pong. âÄúItâÄôs just one of those things that people are going to do and theyâÄôre not going to be too concerned about their health,âÄù Stiver said. Kussatz said heâÄôs never seen other houses playing by the rules he and his roommates use, but he likes it because more people can play and drink beverages besides beer if they choose. âÄúThey bitch about it,âÄù he said of newcomers to the house unfamiliar with their beer pong style. âÄúEveryone gets to play at their own pace, so thereâÄôs no one throwing up off the deck or anything.âÄù Biology major Luke Kuzj said he has friends in Mankato who play with the same rules as Kussatz because of higher reported rates of herpes. “I’ve never really worried about that up here,” he said. Sometimes students who have mono donâÄôt realize they can still transmit the disease through kissing and close oral contact, like drinking beer out of the same cup as someone, for months after they feel better, Balfour said. Stiver said heâÄôd be âÄúpissedâÄù if he found out one of his teammates or an opponent was playing even though they still had the virus in their mouth. âÄúBut IâÄôd also be in awe that they could play and drink well while having mono,âÄù he said.