Building Sand Castles Can Make You Sick: Study

Opt out of the digging

By Jessica Greene
|  Tuesday, Jul 28, 2009  |  Updated 10:32 AM PDT
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Jamie Scott Lytle/North County Times

These kids stand a greater chance of getting eye infections, respiratory illnesses or diarrhea the day after playing in the sand at the beach, according to the study.

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Before you head to the beach to enjoy the sun and take a break from the summer heat this weekend, take into account a recent study that might keep you from building that beloved sandcastle or burying yourself up to your head.

Digging in sand at the beach can have an uncomfortable side effect, besides just the chafing from getting it in your bathing suit -- diarrhea.

Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the Environmental Protection Agency found that kids and grown-ups who play in the sand at the beach a greater chance of coming home with bugs that can cause a variety of illnesses including eye infections, upper respiratory problems and gastrointestinal illnesses.

"We have known for some time that swimming in waters polluted by fecal contamination can result in illness, but few previous studies have focused on sand," Tim Wade, Ph.D., an EPA epidemiologist and the study’s senior author told Science Daily.

Kids who get sand in their mouths show the greatest risk of getting sick the day playing in the sand, the study found.

"People should not be discouraged from enjoying sand at the beach," Wade said, "but should take care to use a hand sanitizer or wash their hands after playing in the sand."

The scientists say beach lovers who stick to the shoreline or swim in the surf have a lower chance of getting sick. Just be careful which beach you choose to take a dip in -- some beaches have posted warning about bacteria found in the water that can also cause harm.

So, as you pack up the towels, boom box and ice chest, remember to toss in the waterless hand sanitizer and resist the urge to dig in the sand or you could be feeling the discomfort and urge to do something else.

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