Babies and children * Travel health

Sand can have more bugs than sea water

sand can have more bugs that seawater Hand washing important after beach play

If you're lucky enough to get the beach this summer then be careful - you could pick up more than a tan.

Analysis of samples from beaches around the world has shown that the sand can often contain more of the food poisoning bug E. coli than the surrounding sea water.

The amount of the bug found in sand varies from beach to beach. Authorities around the world often monitor the quality of sea water to ensure that holiday goers are directed to safe places to swim, but very few monitor the sand.

For instance the prestigious international Blue Flag award for clean and safe beaches includes a requirement to monitor levels of contaminants in the water, but NOT in the sand. But it is to be expected that cleaner water will be an indicator of cleaner sand.

A recent study in the US showed that beach goers digging in the sand were more likely to get food poisoning that those who did not. This was even more so for people who reported that they had been partially submerged in the sand. And because children were more likely to put their hands in their mouth when playing in sand, they were the most at risk group.

“The excess illnesses we observed among those exposed to sand generally consisted of mild gastrointestinal symptoms, but it is a good idea to be sure to wash your hands or use hand sanitizer after digging or playing in the sand,” said Chris Heaney, lead author of the study.

Luckily, in another study scientists discovered that submerging one's hands four times in clean water removed more than 99% of the E. coli and associated viruses from the hands.

So the advice is clear - wash your hands thoroughly after playing in the sand, and be careful if eating on the beach.

Otherwise enjoy!

More information

This article was published on Thu 13 August 2009

Image © fotoliamemberN -

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