30/07/2009 09:13 BST | Updated 22/05/2015 10:12 BST

Children's Beach Fun Could Result In A Tummy Bug

Pic by Debbie Webber A trip to the beach can see you loaded up like a pack horse -- picnic plus rug, towels, suncream, bucket and spade. But there's also something else you might want to take: hand gel.

Chances are if you've got kids you've probably already got a bottle of the "no towel needed" gel for those trips to public toilets and cafes.

But now parents are being advised to pack a bottle when they go to the beach too after an American study discovered that children who play in the sand, and particularly those that like burying themselves in it, are more likely to go home with a stomach bug.

Parents shouldn't panic though, part of the fun of going to the beach is digging in the sand and burying siblings. Following your common sense will help to ensure the only thing you end up taking home from the beach is sand, and the odd shell.The study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that children aged eleven and under who played and dug in the sand were 44 per cent more likely to go on to have diarrhoea. Those who were buried in the sand were 27 per cent more likely to become ill.

Over a period of four years, from 2003 to 2007, researchers followed 27,000 people, noting beach visits and what the children did once there.

They then contacted the families 10 to 12 days later to find out who had become ill. It should be noted, however, that only six percent of children fell ill and all recovered at home.

Although the beaches involved in the study were within seven miles of sewage treatment plants, it doesn't mean beaches further away are more safe, according to Chris Heaney, lead author of the study and a researcher at the University of North Carolina.

The problem comes from E. coli and Enterococcus which can cause illness if ingested. Heaney says the bacteria could come from the runoff of storm sewers or from faeces left by domestic and wild animals. Nice!

But all is not lost and junior can still dig happily in the sand if simple hygiene is followed: keep your eye on little ones to stop them eating sand and use hand gel after playing and before eating.

However, don't think washing your hands in the sea will suffice and use gel that is alcohol based as it is thought to be more effective and doesn't create resistant bacteria.