Toxic bacteria often lurk in children’s and dogs’ sandboxes

Playground sandboxes can harbor deadly - and drug resistant - strains of the diarrhea-causing bacterium Clostridum difficile, research in Spain shows.

Often called "C. diff" for short, the bug has typically been considered a problem for very ill hospitalized patients, but it's increasingly being found outside hospitals, Dr. Jose Blanco of the faculty of Veterinary Medicine at Universidad Complutense de Madrid and colleagues write in the journal Zoonoses and Public Health.

Just as squeamish parents might expect, past studies have confirmed that public sandboxes can host disease-causing organisms, including parasites and bacteria. In the new study, Blanco's team tested sand from 20 sandboxes for children and 20 for dogs in Madrid parks.

See more common infections:

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Various bacteria, diseases, infections
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Various bacteria, diseases, infections

Lactobacillus

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E.coli bacteria

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S. pyrogens, a nonmotile, pathogenic bacteria. Commonly associated with septic sore throat infections (known as 'strep throat') & scarlet fever.

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Influenza virus particle surrounded by some floating red blood cells

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Cyanobacteria

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Microscopic Image of Escherichia Coli

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MRSA Staphylococcus aureus Bacteria outside a white blood cell

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Microscopic Image of Neisseria Gonorrhoeae

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Neisseria gonorrhoeae

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Microscopic Image of Clostridium Tetani

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Cyanobacteria in stream

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Twenty-one of the sandboxes tested positive for C. diff. Of these, eight of the samples were toxin-forming strains, the type that causes disease in humans, while the remaining twelve were non-toxigenic.

The findings are not cause for alarm, Blanco told Reuters Health in an email interview. He noted that C. difficile does not sicken children younger than 2 years old. "We have to learn to live with these agents. If our children live in a highly clean environment, their immune system will not be developed in the correct way, and probably, problems like allergy will be present," he added.

"It is important do not leave organic material in the sandboxes, that could serve as food to different kinds of animals in the night. And also clean the sandboxes of possible animal fecal material (mainly in the morning, before the use by children)."

It's not surprising to find C. difficile in sandboxes, Philip Tierno Jr., a professor of pathology and microbiology at NYU School of Medicine in New York City, told Reuters Health in a telephone interview. Even though the study was done in Spain, he added, "it's really something that could have been done here because C. difficile is ubiquitous." Many people, including children, carry the bug without being sick, Tierno said, and it can now even be found in the food supply.

Related: Dirtiest cities in the United States

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The germiest cities in the US
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The germiest cities in the US

New York City

The MTA bus, the subway and the good old yellow cab. New York isn't known for its cleanliness, but is its grimy rep deserved?

RELATED: Ick factor alert! 5 little-known facts about germs 

The city didn't get off to a great start; the bus handle the team tested had nearly double the amount of normal bacteria.

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New York City

But the Big Apple redeemed itself in the taxi test.

That sample had a bacteria level under the 100-point threshold.

But the most surprising win came from the New York City subway. With a reading of 31, the subway proved remarkably clean!

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Los Angeles

The metro in Los Angeles was about as germy as a New York bus. And the swab came away with visible dirt, which was extra unsettling.

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Los Angeles

The above ground transportation wasn't much better. A bus pole the team swabbed had 259 points — over 150 more than the threshold. And the cab's credit card machine was even worse.

RELATED: In rental cars, dangerous bacteria may come along for the ride

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Chicago

The Midwestern city boasts about its relative cleanliness, so it should be able to pass the test, right? Wrong.

The CTA bus in Chicago clocked in at 730 — more than seven times the recommended threshold. But it didn't stop there; the taxi in Chicago came back with a score of 909. That's more than 800 points above the limit.

RELATED: What's the germiest place on a plane? Travel tips you need to know

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Chicago

Those scores are bad, but the test run on the Chicago L train was the worst Jeff Rossen has ever seen, coming back with a result of 4,032. That's over 40 times the acceptable amount of bacteria. Yikes!

Sorry, Chicago, out of the surfaces tested, yours were the dirtiest of all.

(Photo by Ann Cecil via Getty Images)

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The best defense against C. difficile is careful handwashing, before eating and drinking and before touching one's face, according to Tierno. While soap and water are effective against the germ, he said, alcohol-based sanitizing gels will not kill the bug.

Private sandboxes are likely to be relatively clean, but they should be covered when not in use to avoid bacteria and parasites carried by animals like rats and raccoons, Tierno said.

He noted that when he takes his grandchildren to the park, he steers clear of sandboxes. "I don't see the need," he said. "I'd rather take my kid to the beach and play with the sand there."

SOURCE: Zoonoses and Public Health, online July 7, 2017

Related: Dirtiest things in the bar

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10 Dirtiest Things Behind Every Bar
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10 Dirtiest Things Behind Every Bar

Though the cleanliness of each establishment varies from place to place, there are some components behind every bar that are harder to clean, and therefore, easier to neglect.

Lemon/Lime Wedges and Other Fruit

Most restaurant/bar establishments, unfortunately, do not wash the fruit. To make matters even worse, most bartenders use their bare hands to grab these garnishes; even the containers on the bar rarely get a cleaning.

Image Credit: Credit: Thinkstock

Rims of Glasses

Who stores glasses upside down? Many bars do to save space, and they stack them on an infrequently washed/sanitized surface. BYOG.

Image Credit: Thinkstock

Ice Machine

Sadly, this crucial component to enjoying a nice beverage is one of the dirtiest. A famed study by a middle schooler found that ice was dirtier than the toilet water at the same establishments 70% of the time. Though freezing temperatures kills bacteria, that statistic is still hard to swallow.

Image Credit: Thinkstock

Bar Sink

Usually filled with sudsy water that is used to quickly rinse utensils and barware, the sink rarely gets cleaned/disinfected throughout the shift.

Image Credit: Flickr/vagawi

Register/Touch Screen

It’s common knowledge that cash, cards, pens and check holders are dirty; add to that the register and touch screen that bartenders use during ordering/transactions without washing their hands afterwards.

Image Credit: Thinkstock

Dry Mats

They may be used after cleaning utensils, but dry mats are anything but pristine, allowing for the reintroduction of germs to whatever it comes into contact with.

Image Credit: Thinkstock

Soda Machines

It’s been proven that soda machines, including the dispensers, bags of syrup and even the tubes carrying the liquids, are a hot bed for bacteria as they often go for long periods of time (we’re talking years) without being cleaned.

Image Credit: Thinkstock

Towels

Hanging out of bartenders’ pockets, or tossed on the counters waiting to pick up any drips and spills, it’s a guarantee that the quicker picker upper behind the bar hasn’t been used just once, which allows it to spread all sorts of unwanted stuff wherever they wipe.

Image Credit: Thinkstock

Alcohol Bottles

Those bottles of liquor many look gorgeous, all lined up and lit beautifully; however, they are actually sitting behind the bar collecting dust and grime.

Image Credit: Thinkstock

Tap Beer

Rarely cleaned or covered, the beer taps have been proven to contain more bacteria, and even mold in some cases, than the bottled brews.

Image Credit: Thinkstock

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