Feature

Health scare of the week: The germs lurking in the sand

The levels of fecal bacteria—from runoff, sewage, and bird droppings—can be many times higher in the sand than in the water.

Most beachgoers know that swimming in foul water can make them sick. But in the adjacent sand, levels of fecal bacteria—from runoff, sewage, and bird droppings—can be many times higher than in the water. Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the Environmental Protection Agency interviewed more than 25,000 people about their health several days after they’d visited a beach. Only a small number—less than 10 percent—reported becoming ill. But those who said they’d dug in the sand were 13 percent more likely to have contracted a stomach illness and 20 percent more likely to have gotten diarrhea; children under 11 were at even greater risk. And think twice before being buried in the sand: You’re 27 percent more likely to develop diarrhea, and your kids’ risk rises 44 percent. If you must play in the sand, study co-author Tim Wade tells the San Diego Union-Tribune, “use a hand sanitizer or wash your hands.”

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