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This may be one of those "I'd rather not know what's really in there" moments. But despite the appeal of sandboxes, those communal gathering spots of the 4-year-old set may not be as innocent as they appear.
Like swimming pools — which we enter with a certain amount of forcing ourselves not to think about what's really in that water — the shared sand space contains the residue of all who have entered it. That includes bacteria, parasites and other infectious germs carried by kids and, depending on the location of the sand, animals. The difference is that the sandboxes don't have chlorine or other agents to help kill off some of the germs.
There have been studies that looked at what else is in those boxes beyond the sand. Researchers have found various strains of Clostridium difficile (C. difficile), a bacteria that can cause mild diarrhea to more severe inflammation and may be difficult to treat. There are also parasites like Toxoplasma gondii, which can cause flu-like symptoms, and let's not forget pinworms and roundworms. While it sounds rather frightening, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends ways to help keep kids safe so you don't have to spoil their fun.
Make sure kids wash their hands thoroughly before and after playing in the sand
If you have a sandbox, keep it covered when it's not in use to keep out insects and animals
Rake the sand regularly to remove debris, clumps and any material that shouldn't be there
Don't allow pets to play in the sand
If the sand gets wet, let it dry out thoroughly before covering it to prevent bacteria growth
Playing in the sandbox can be a good sensory experience and even help kids develop motor and social skills. As with all things, taking a few extra precautions can go a long way to keeping kids healthy and safe.