Everyone loves going to the beach during the summer, but some worms and organisms like to hang out in the sand, and you could be infected if you don’t know what they are. We investigate which kinds of worms and organisms are found in beach sand in this article to help you protect yourself.
Most microbes found in beach sand are perfectly harmless, like Pacific Lugworms. However, some worms lurking beneath the sand have been linked to disease. The organisms in beach sand responsible for causing health-related issues in humans are Hookworms and Roundworms.
Although most beachgoers are perfectly fine after a trip to the beach, you should be aware of some pathogens hanging around in beach sand, particularly if you have young children. Here’s what might be sticking around in the beach sand and how you can prevent it from affecting your health.
Types of Worms Found in Beach Sand
Everyone loves going to the beach to relax and unwind when on holiday. But as you lay your beach towel on the sand, you should be aware that you are not just sharing the beach sand with fellow holidaymakers.
The warm sand between your toes is home to some harmful pathogens. Even though most microbes found in beach sand are generally harmless, some are linked to health issues in humans. We discuss the main culprits to help you prevent them from affecting your health.
Hookworms in Beach Sand
Hookworm is a parasite that can infect humans and animals and infect more than 700 million people worldwide each year.
Parasites like hookworms thrive in warm, moist climates, including beach sand. They can affect your small intestine, skin, and lungs when they enter your body.
Humans pick up hookworms from walking barefoot on sand contaminated with infected animal feces or accidentally ingesting hookworm eggs.
Beach sand gets contaminated when dogs are allowed to indiscriminately defecate on beaches, where the microscopic worms multiply and then infect people who walk, play, and lay on beach sand.
Typically, hookworm eggs left in the sand will spread anywhere ocean water moves the sand. The eggs develop into larvae and lay in wait, ready to latch onto someone’s bare skin.
Once fully developed, the larvae can make their way into your skin when you walk barefoot on infected beach sand. Around twenty-one days after infection, the larvae will make their way to your lungs.
When the larvae make their way to your small intestine, you can experience gastrointestinal discomfort like diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain.
However, if you suspect you have been infected, treatments are readily available. After some tests confirming you have an infestation, a doctor will prescribe oral medication for one to three days as treatment.
Hookworm infection is extremely itchy due to the immune system trying to rid the parasite from your body. Once mature, hookworms can live in a person’s small intestine longer than a year before passing through the feces.
How Dangerous are Hookworms in Humans?
The effects could become serious when anyone suffers from Hookworm infestation for a while. People can become anemic with a heavy load of intestinal worms. Anemia occurs when a low red blood cell count is observed. Anemia can cause heart failure in some cases.
Other dangerous complications from hookworm infestations are nutritional deficiencies and a severe condition known as ascites. Ascites occur when profound protein loss results in fluid buildup in your stomach.
Children diagnosed with frequent hookworm infections often experience slow growth and delayed mental development from losing protein and iron regularly.
How to Prevent Hookworms in Humans
You can reduce your risk of getting infected with hookworms from beach sand by following these tips.
- Always wear shoes on the beach and outdoors.
- Don’t drink water from unsafe sources.
- Always wash your hands.
- After a day on the beach, wash your body with hot soapy water.
Some countries practice preventive treatment for people who are at risk of infections.
- Young children.
- Pregnant women.
- Breastfeeding women.
- Humans that work in areas where parasitic infections frequently occur, like zoo animal keepers and veterinary workers.
Some people don’t experience symptoms if they are generally healthy and have a low parasite burden.
When persons experience symptoms, it usually starts with a rash, allergic reaction, or itchiness where the larvae enter the skin.
As the hookworms develop and grow in the intestine, diarrhea typically follows. Other symptoms of hookworm infestation are:
- Itchy rash.
- Abdominal pain and intestinal cramps.
- Loss of appetite.
- Nausea and vomiting.
- High fever.
- Blood in the stool.
How to Treat Hookworm in Humans
Treatment for hookworm is Emverm/mebendazole and Albenza/albendazole. Doctors treat patients with oral medication for parasitic infestations regularly.
Your doctor might also recommend an iron supplement if you have been diagnosed with anemia. When diagnosed with ascites, your doctor will instruct you to add additional protein to your daily diet to help your body recover.
Roundworms are parasites that can live in your small intestine and cause health-related problems. Water or sand contaminated with roundworms can infect humans when they eat or drink water or food contaminated with roundworm eggs. These parasites can live in a host like a human or animal body for years.
Roundworms also called nematodes and have long, round bodies. They can be different lengths, from a few millimeters to meters long.
Roundworms live in moist beach sand and can enter your body through your skin when it encounters your bare skin. Roundworm eggs can survive in wet beach sand for years.
Once on the beach, sand roundworm eggs develop into larvae and typically get into a person’s body when it gets on their hands and accidentally into the mouth.
Roundworm larvae can also enter the body through skin contact when walking or playing on infected beach sand.
Beaches that allow dogs are considered at high risk for roundworm infections because the beach sand can contain roundworms that are left behind in dog feces.
Roundworm Symptoms in Humans
Most people don’t show symptoms immediately; only after six to eight weeks of the initial infestation will they start experiencing symptoms.
Persons with roundworms frequently report these symptoms:
- Allergic rash.
- High fever.
- Loss of appetite.
- Extreme abdominal cramps and pain.
- Wheezing and coughing. Larvae in the lungs can cause symptoms like coughing, wheezing, and other respiratory problems.
- Notice live worms in stool.
- Restless sleep.
- Roundworms like Onchocerciasis can cause eye lesions that can cause total vision loss.
High roundworm infections in children can cause nutritional deficiencies and growth delay, and slow mental development when not treated.
Roundworms cause severe health-related problems if left untreated. Heavy infestation can cause a blockage in the intestines and, in some cases, cause severe damage to the pancreas or liver.
Treatment for Roundworms in Humans
Treatment for roundworms is standard, and your doctor will prescribe oral treatment once a roundworm infection has been diagnosed.
In countries where roundworms are common, mebendazole, albendazole, and ivermectin are typically prescribed by doctors. The oral doses can be taken twice a day for three days. Your doctor will reschedule a follow-up visit to ensure you are free from any worms after the treatment.
How to Prevent Hookworm and Roundworm Infections
Nothing is more relaxing than digging your toes into the warm beach sand. That lovely beach sand could be riddled with roundworm or hookworm eggs and larvae that can create health-related problems when they find their way into your body.
Here’s how to avoid hookworm and roundworms from getting into your body on the beach.
- Always wear sandals on the beach.
- Use a beach chair when on the beach.
- Take a hot shower after a day on the beach.
The Pacific lugworm is a species of marine worm found on the west coast of North America and the U.K. and known as the earthworms of the sea. They live in U-shaped burrows, about 15 to 20 cm below the wet beach sand, where they spend most of their lives in the safety of their holes.
They place their head at the bottom of the burrow and their tail pointing up toward the surface. This is a clever way to avoid being eaten by predators. The tail part of the lugworm is exposed and can be regrown just like some lizards if lost when birds try to eat them.
Lugworms are entirely harmless and favored as fishing bait by fishers. Lugworms are not only favored by anglers but also by birds that frequent the beach looking for something to eat.
Lugworms feed on organic micro-organisms that are in wet beach sand. Lugworms are beneficial as they play a vital part in re-oxygenating the beach sand.
When they burrow, they leave a depression on the sand, and once done feeding on the organic sediment in the sand, expel the waste material to the surface every 45 minutes.
This pile of sandy waste is called the cast and, effectively, the lugworm poo. It looks like tube worms made from the sand all piled up together. A lugworm can move 24 kg of sand through its intestines each year.
These sandy mounds are typically seen during low tides on beaches. These sandy tubes are signs of the secret industrious lugworm that plays an essential role in the beach ecosystem. Lugworms can live around five years and make up around thirty percent of the biomass of a typical sandy beach.
How Lugworms Help Humans
Not all worms living in beach sand are harmful. Lugworms contribute to the re-oxygenation of beach sand and have recently shown that they are beneficial to humans.
Medical interest in the lugworm started during 2003. French researchers like Dr. Franck Zal found lugworm blood has extraordinary life-giving oxygen that can be used to treat certain medical conditions like septic shock.
Harnessing it could transform human medicine. This oxygen-rich blood can be used as a blood substitute for transplant patients and speed up recovery after surgery.
Scientists found that the lugworm hemoglobin can transport around 40 times more oxygen from the lungs to tissues than human hemoglobin can. Lugworm blood also can be compatible with all human blood types making it a universal donor.
Scientists extracted and purified hemoglobin from lugworms and tested it on lab mice, where they showed no immune response.
Scientists say lugworm oxygen-rich blood can treat medical conditions like septic shock, which can cause fatal organ failure. The oxygen-rich lugworm blood can also help preserve organs for transplants, potentially helping thousands of organ recipients each year.
In 2015 clinical trials of the blood product started, and Lugworm hemoglobin was since used in ten human kidney transplants in France. The lugworm hemoglobin compound patented by French biotechnology company, Hemarina’s Dr. Franck Zal, is called Hemo2life.
Walking barefoot on a white sandy beach or digging your toes into the sand may sound idyllic, but in some places, you should be aware of parasites hiding in the beach sand.
There are worms in beach sand, some are harmless, and some dangerous that can affect a person’s health. Hookworms and roundworms living on beach sand can infect humans and animals through skin contact and cause health-related severe problems if left untreated.
On the other hand, Lugworms are utterly harmless to humans and are beneficial to the beach environment when they re-oxygenate the beach sand. Lugworms leave noticeable sand tubes on beaches after eating the organic sediment in wet beach sand.
Hookworm and roundworm infestations in humans can be severe and should be treated with oral medication once it is diagnosed. Treatment consists of oral medication taken over 3 to 5 days prescribed by a doctor.
Beachgoers should always rinse their bodies well with warm soapy water once they leave the beach to prevent hookworms and roundworms from infecting them.
Thanks to public health awareness programs highlighting the dangers of these parasites found in beach sand, most beachgoers wear shoes on the sand to protect themselves. Even though roundworm and hookworm are rare in the U.S., it is still widespread worldwide.