We’ve had some beautiful warm days in southern Ontario lately, and spring – technically – arrives tomorrow (despite the fact that it’s been trying to snow in Guelph even this afternoon! But hope springs eternal (pardon the pun)). The picture (right) is Erin, my youngest daughter, enjoying the warmer weather and playing in a sandbox at my parents’ house yesterday. Allowing a child to play in the sand carries some degree of infectious disease risk, but the risk is very low and simple measures can reduce the risk even further.
The main diseases of concern with regard to sand in temperate regions (like Ontario) are spread via the fecal-oral route, meaning the diseases are transmitted by swallowing organisms that are passed in the stool. The most important of these diseases – visceral larval migrans and ocular larval migrans – are caused by parasites. These disease are uncommon in most places, and when they do occur they’re not typically associated with sand from sandboxes specifically. However, while very rare, larval migrans can be a very serious condition. The risk is greatest in very young children and children with developmental problems who are more likely to eat sand. In warmer (more southern) regions, another parasitic disease called cutaneous larval migrans is much more common. This condition can occur after just skin contact with contaminated sand.
The main points regarding sandbox safety are:
- Keep sandboxes covered so animals don’t use them as litter boxes.
- Check the sand regularly to make sure there is no evidence of animal stool or urine.
- Try to prevent children from putting their hands, or other objects, in their mouths while playing in a sandbox (and in general!).
- Don’t give children snacks or drinks while they’re playing in the sand.
- Wash (or make sure they wash) children’s hands after they’re done playing in the sand.
For the average child, the risks of infectious diseases from sandboxes are extremely low. I have no problem letting my children play in the sand… I just use these basic infection control precautions.