August 12, 2009

Beach sand — no day at the beach

After a day at the beach, or before eating while on the beach, U.S. scientists advise washing hands before eating to reduce illness.

The study, released by the U.S. Geological Survey in Reston, Va., found hand rinsing -- submerging the hands in clean water four times -- removed more than 99 percent of the bacteria E. coli and associated viruses found on hands digging sand on the shores of Lake Michigan in Chicago.

Our mothers were right! Cleaning our hands before eating really works, especially after handling sand at the beach, Dr. Richard Whitman, the study's lead author, said in a statement.

Simply rinsing hands may help reduce risk, but a good scrubbing is the best way to avoid illness.

Other studies had discovered much higher E. coli concentrations in beach sand than in beach water. They also found beach-goers who had dug in the sand or been buried in sand were more likely to develop gastrointestinal illnesses after a day at the beach.