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Sickening Sand

When I go to the beach, I worry about sunburns, riptides and how I look in my bathing suit. Now, I guess I also have to worry about getting sick.

A study published online last month but only now making the news suggests that people who play in the sand may be at increased risk of gastrointestinal illness than those who just sit or walk on the sand. Folks who allow themselves to be buried in the sand may be at still greater risk of getting sick.

Just as recreational waters -- from bathing beaches to swimming pools -- are known to often harbor fecal contaminants, so, too, is sand apparently full of poop. Since many GI diseases are spread via feces, handling sand contaminated with feces-borne bacteria naturally might make us sick. Getting sand in our mouths may up the odds that we'll fall ill.

Gross, right? But before you cancel your beach vacation, you should know that the risk of getting sick from contaminated sand is minor. More than 27,000 people on seven beaches (each of which was within seven miles of a sewage-treatment facility) were questioned about any illnesses they'd experienced 10-12 days after visiting the beach. Those who reported digging in the sand were at 20 percent greater risk of diarrhea than those who didn't, and those who'd been buried were at 24 percent greater risk of diarrhea than those who just sat. Participants were asked about diet and other factors that might have contributed to such illnesses. Still, the study doesn't definitively link sand exposure to illness.

So, yeah, let's all try to avoid getting sand in our mouths and do what we can to keep it out of our kids' mouths, too. (There are plenty of other good reasons to do that, anyway.) But let's not let this news spoil our time on the shore, either.

Here's a poll:

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  |  July 13, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Family Health , General Health  
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Another scare-mongering story. When will the Post start running ads for "BeachCure" or "SandSafe" or some other related snake-oil?

Posted by: Apostrophe | July 13, 2009 8:42 AM | Report abuse

It's probably not just a matter of sewage treatment plants, but, at least for people in my part of the world (Florida), it's the birdlife. We have zillions of pelicans, seagulls, terns and smaller shorebirds that sit on and fly over our beaches all the time, and they poop constantly.

At any rate, I think doing what you can to avoid getting sand and seawater in your or your child's mouth is all that's necessary. Only people who are neurotically germ-phobic will obsess about this.

Posted by: sally1860 | July 15, 2009 4:21 PM | Report abuse

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