Dangerous bacteria lurks in the sand

As the temperature warms up, many people will head to the beach to enjoy a little fun in the sun. While parents are aware of the harmful effects of sun exposure, there is another concern: the sand. Researchers say sand can contain dangerous bacteria, but until now there was no way to judge how “contaminated” a beach was.

Researchers have now created guidelines so officials can test the sand for bacteria.

The bacteria

“These values can be used by beach managers to make decisions concerning sand quality,” says Helena Solo-Gabriele, professor in the Department of Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering at the UM College of Engineering and principal investigator of this project.

“That way, when regulators are faced with a decision about a potential health risk, there is a guideline available with which to decide whether or not the levels of microbes found in the sand are cause for concern.”

Bacteria from animals

Dogs, birds and other animals visiting the beach leave behind bacteria in the sand.

“Exposures to high levels of certain microorganisms could cause gastrointestinal illness in humans, while infectious risks vary in different microorganism,” says Tomoyuki Shibata, assistant professor in the Public Health Program and Institute for the Study of the Environment, Sustainability, & Energy, at Northern Illinois University and first author of the study.

Children at higher risk

Studies have shown that children have a higher illness risk than adults from beach and sand exposures. Researchers will now focus on studies of kids’ play behavior in sand, to better estimate the acceptable levels of microbes that can cause diseases in children and create a guide for people to stay healthy while on vacation.

“Parents of young children don’t need to overreact to our findings and they can reduce their child’s infectious risk by basic hygiene practices such as hand washing before eating or drinking and taking a shower,” said Shibata.