A sure sign that spring is approach is the advertising of outdoor summer items in stores. A large pile of sandboxes at one store caught my eye the other day, particularly as it followed a discussion I had with some infectious disease physicians about kids and sandboxes. Sandboxes can be a great thing for kids, however there are some infectious disease concerns. Uncovered sandboxes can become litter boxes for cats, raccoons and other outdoor animals. Some of these animals could be passing potentially dangerous bacteria and parasites in their stool. An example of this was reported a few months ago in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. This report described an outbreak of cutaneous larval migrans in 18 children and 4 staff at a day camp. This is a skin disease caused by hookworms. Cats and other animals can pass hookworm eggs in their stool. A sandbox contaminated with cat stool was implicated as the cause.

We really have no clue about how common sandbox exposure causes disease. While this skin disease is usually relatively minor, there are some other groups of parasites that can migrate through other parts of the body, including the brain, and cause devastating illness. All of these are very rare in northern climates like Canada, but measures should be taken to reduce the risk of exposure because of the potential severity of disease. Risks are much higher in warmer climates. These are a significant concern in warmer areas. It’s probably pretty uncommon but some of the diseases that can occur are very serious, so attention should be paid to these risks. The main things that can be done to reduce the risk are keeping animals out of sandboxes and handwashing after contact with sand. Check out our “Sandbox” information sheet for more details.