Need A Reason To Stay Inside? Beaches Make You Sick

Science justifies the reclusive nature of hardcore gamers during these hot summer months, as a new study finds that people actively participating in beach-based activities are more likely to develop gastrointestinal problems, fever, and skin illness. Who's for beach volleyball?

Score one for sitting inside an air-conditioned room for three months of every year, only going outside when food is required or a new game comes out. That's how I prefer to spend my summers, and according to a study conducted by environmental engineer Helena Solo-Gabriele and colleagues at the University of Miami, it might be a wise decision.

Beaches have always frightened me, mainly because there are things buried in the sand and crawling through that water that don't have my best interests in mind. I love swimming in pools, where you can see the bottom. There's no mystery there. No unknown elements, aside from whether or not the community kids can keep from peeing. Even then, I'd rather risk bathing in urine than the chance of slicing open my foot on broken glass, being stabbed by a hypodermic needle, or being eaten by Cthulhu.

It could happen.

Beaches are dirty places, filled with bacteria. Last year there were more than 18,500 beach closings, mainly due to dangerous levels of bacteria in the water. This doesn't happen everywhere in the country, of course. Beaches in New Hampshire, Delaware and Oregon are generally quite clean, mainly due to the fact that no one lives in New Hampshire, Delaware, or Oregon. Don't mail us if you do; we don't believe you.

Other beaches are notoriously dirty. Illinois, Rhode Island and Louisiana beaches regularly exceed national contamination standards by 25% or more, though Louisiana and the rest of the Gulf Coast have a pretty valid excuse for not being tidy this year and many years to come.

So the trick is avoiding the contaminated beaches, right? Not necessarily.

Solo-Gabriele and her friends invited more than 1,300 people to come to a Miami beach where no bacterial contamination issues had been reported. Some of those people were asked to sit in a chair or on a plastic sheet laid out on the sand. The others were allowed to swim for fifteen minutes, dunking their heads underwater three times each.

After monitoring the study participants for a week, the researchers found the swimmers were more than one and a half times more likely to develop gastrointestinal illness; four and a half times more likely to encounter fever or respiratory problems; and six times more likely to develop skin illnesses.

"It's not like everyone who went in the water got sick," Solo-Gabriele said. "If you look at the actual numbers, the fractions are so small. But the rate of illness was higher in the swimmers."

Still, this was a beach with no reported problems, which highlights one of the issues with measuring contamination levels. There's always a 24-hour delay between the measuring and results, and with bacteria levels in beach water fluctuating wildly, that means the results are likely useless by the time they're released.

This doesn't mean you should avoid beaches altogether, though I am certainly planning to interpret the study that way.

For the rest of you, simple hygiene tips can help. Shower after swimming in the ocean. Don't swim with open wounds. Avoid obvious sources of pollution, like marinas, sewage pipes, or bloated corpses.

Or just stay inside with me. We'll get pizza and hide from Cthulhu.

Summer Bummer: Beaches Can Make You Sick [Discovery]
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