July 10, 2009

Walking on sand safer than playing in sand

U.S. beach goers who play in the sand are at greater risk of diarrhea and gastrointestinal diseases than those who just walk on sand, scientists said.

Beach sand can contain indicators of fecal contamination, said Chris Heaney, a postdoctoral epidemiology student at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

Heaney's study showed children run the greatest risk of illness after a day at the beach because they are more likely than adults to dig enthusiastically and get sand in their mouth, the university said in a release Thursday.

Heaney's team gleaned data from more than 27,000 beach goers interviewed between 2003 and 2007 for U.S. Environmental Protection Agency studies, Tim Wade, an EPA epidemiologist said.

People should not be discouraged from enjoying sand at the beach, but should take care to use a hand sanitizer or wash their hands after playing in the sand, Wade said. That will make a day at the beach a little less risky.