Throughout the summer, especially after heavy rains, when state environmental officials find elevated levels of bacteria in the ocean, they will order swimmers out of the water at adjoining Jersey Shore beaches.

When these alerts are issued, the beaches themselves are technically open, you’re just not allowed to jump in the ocean. But now we learn the sand near the water’s edge may also pose a danger.

“The answer is yes, anything that’s exposed to ocean water can have bacteria on it,” said Dr. Ted Louie, an infectious disease expert with the Medical Society of New Jersey, affiliated with Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, Saint Peter’s University Hospital and Highland Park Medical.

He explained state officials test for “indicator” bacteria found in all animals known as enterococci, but other types of bacteria may also be in the water.

Louie said this bacterium may wash up onto the beach right along the water’s edge and pose a minor threat to your health.

“If you’re walking along the edge of the ocean, watch your step. Whatever washes up on the beach, if it’s driftwood, if it’s shells, you can certainly have bacteria on that,” he said.

“And there is always a risk that if you step on a shell, you cut your foot, that some bacteria will go into your system, so yes, that’s always a concern in and around a beach.

He stressed the risk from this kind of exposure to bacteria is low, especially if you’re simply exposed to sand, although there would be a more pronounced risk if you have a large gash on your foot or leg, because bacteria would have a greater chance of contaminating you.

“The highest risk will be if you actually fall and injure yourself, but the beach itself, the sand, it’s a fairly low risk thing.”

Cindy Zipf, the executive director of Clean Ocean Action, noted “if you’re sitting at the water’s edge or your child is sitting at the water’s edge making a sand castle or whatever and the water splashes up and gets into your mouth or the eyes, there’s a risk there.”

She stressed anytime a beach is closed to swimmers, “there’s significant concern and people should stay away from the water and allow Mother Nature to purge the pollution from the water.”

She stressed when bacteria is exposed to sunlight it will start to die off but people still need to be careful.

“Whenever there is a closure it’s best to steer clear of the beach along the shore and enjoy maybe some other places to get wet. But just really do stay away from the water,” she said.

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com

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