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Beach Sand Can Carry Nasty Diseases

Typical beach fun includes burrowing in the sand and burying fellow beach goers. But a new study shows that some pretty nasty bugs may lurk in the seemingly harmless sands.

The study, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, found that kids under the age of 11 who dug in the sands were 44 percent more likely to develop diarrhea. And kids who were buried in the sand were 27 percent more likely to develop diarrhea than those who weren’t.

The study focused on 27,000 beachgoers who visited seven beaches around the country between 2003 and 2007. Three hundred and six children, or 6 percent, developed diarrhea. All of the children recovered on their own.

All of the beaches included in the study were all within seven miles of a sewage treatment plant.

However, other studies that focused on beaches far from sewage treatments plants still had high levels of E. coli and Enterococcus bacteria in the top 8 inches. In fact, levels can be almost 40 times those found in the water at the same beaches.

Beaches become contaminated from storm sewer runoff or from animal feces. Once the germs are there, the sand provides a very friendly environment for the bugs to replicate.

When the researchers looked at their data by location, they found that some beaches were far worse than others. Huntington Beach, which is on the shores of Lake Erie in Bay Village, Ohio, had no increase in the risk of diarrhea, while Fairhope Beach, which is on the shore of Mobile Bay in Fairhope, Ala., had an increase of almost 200 percent among those who dug in the sand.

Dr. Philip Kazlow, director of pediatric clinical gastroenterology at NewYork-Presbyterian Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital suggests using hand sanitizer and not ingesting the water or sand from beaches. The only way to get a gastrointestinal disease is to ingest the germs.

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