Contact with beach sand among beachgoers and risk of illness

Christopher D. Heaney, Elizabeth Sams, Steve Wing, Steve Marshall, Kristen Brenner, Alfred P. Dufour, Timothy J. Wade

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

90 Scopus citations


Recent studies of beach sand fecal contamination have triggered interest among scientists and in the media. Although evidence shows that beach sand can harbor high concentrations of fecal indicator organisms, as well as fecal pathogens, illness risk associated with beach sand contact is not well understood. Beach visitors at 7 US beaches were enrolled in the National Epidemiological and Environmental Assessment of Recreational Water (NEEAR) Study during 2003-2005 and 2007 and asked about sand contact on the day of their visit to the beach (digging in the sand, body buried in the sand). Then, 10-12 days after their visit, participants were telephoned to answer questions about any health symptoms experienced since the visit. The authors completed 27,365 interviews. Digging in the sand was positively associated with gastrointestinal illness (adjusted incidence proportion ratio (aIPR)=1.13, 95% confidence interval (CI): 1.02, 1.25) and diarrhea (aIPR=1.20, 95% CI: 1.05, 1.36). The association was stronger between those buried in the sand and gastrointestinal illness (aIPR=1.23, 95% CI: 1.05, 1.43) and diarrhea (aIPR=1.24, 95% CI: 1.01, 1.52). Nonenteric illnesses did not show a consistent association with sand contact activities. Sand contact activities were associated with enteric illness at beach sites. Variation in beach-specific results suggests that site-specific factors may be important in the risk of illness following sand exposure.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)164-172
Number of pages9
JournalAmerican journal of epidemiology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jul 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Bathing beaches
  • Diarrhea
  • Disease transmission, infectious
  • Environmental pollution
  • Fomites
  • Fresh water
  • Oceans and seas
  • Sewage

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Epidemiology


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