Beach sand could contain pathogens

By Tom Nordlie • Published: November 17th, 2009
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Looking forward to a winter trip to a warm-weather destination? Making sand castles at the beach is great fun.

Unfortunately, there could be a nasty surprise waiting in that sugary sand.

A variety of pathogens can live there, including bacteria and viruses that cause gastrointestinal illness.

Many of these microbes are associated with fecal contamination.

A study published recently in the American Journal of Epidemiology showed possible connections between sand exposure and illness.

Researchers surveyed about twenty-seven-thousand people who visited one of several U-S beaches.

Most were located at freshwater lakes, some at the ocean.

The participants were random groups of beachgoers. They answered questions about demographic factors, health status and activities at the beach.

Researchers asked if anyone in the group dug in the sand, was buried in the sand, or got sand in their mouths.

About ten days later, the researchers called participants to ask if anyone had become sick since leaving the beach.

Overall, people who dug in the sand had about ten percent greater risk of suffering gastrointestinal illness after their beach trip, compared with those who didn’t dig.

And people who were buried in the sand had more than twenty percent greater risk overall.

The effect of sand exposure varied from beach to beach. And digging in the sand seemed to pose less risk for people ages fifty-five and over.

Nonetheless, you don’t need a lighthouse to spot the potential hazard here.

Next time you’re at the beach, avoid being buried, pack hand sanitizer and shower with soap before you leave.

Be “shore” to take precautions, and you can “wave” goodbye to those nasty germs.