How to Reduce Your Child’s Risk of Illness from Water Park Venues This Summer

Water parks offer great summer entertainment for families with kids — with Interactive spray fountains, splash parks and splash pads letting kids cool off and have fun in shallow water. North America has more than 1,000 of these popular attractions, which are visited by as many as 78 million people each year.

Unfortunately, as enjoyable as interactive water features can be, they can also make kids sick when certain risky behaviors are practiced. Exposing buttocks to the spray of water and placing mouths over water spouts can spread germs and cause illness, especially diarrhea. A 2010 study found that such practices can contaminate the play water with feces – and that these behaviors are seen even when there are educational signs, hygiene attendants or adult supervisors. (Disturbingly, a 2000 study suggests that swimmers may have up to 10 grams of fecal material on their skin.) Similarly, by placing their mouths over water spouts, kids risk spreading germs to others in the resulting spray.

These types of risky behaviors were likely linked to a 2007 outbreak of the diarrheal disease cryptosporidiosis in a municipal park in Idaho, which sickened around 50 people who were in contact with a splash feature. A report by CDC following the outbreak found that “…young children were observed to be the predominant users of the splash park, and diapered children frequently sat on top of splash features. There was no opportunity for children to shower before enjoying the splash feature. Nearby restrooms lacked showers and even lacked soap for hand-washing.”

The water used at water parks is usually filtered and disinfected, but children may be exposed to germs during the short time the water is in the play area before being recirculated through the treatment process.

Tips to Avoid Illness

Parents can cut down the risks of illness from water parks with a few simple steps (see panel). First, make sure that kids shower or bathe before going in the water. Second, be aware of – and discourage – risky behaviors. Third, ask your kids not to drink water from the pool play area. Fourth, change diapers only in specified areas, and not by the pool-side. And finally, keep kids who have diarrhea away from the water park altogether.

  • Shower or bathe children with soap before attending water parks, paying special attention to their bottoms.
  • Discourage risky behaviors like sitting on water spouts or placing mouths over them.
  • Do not drink water from water park play area.
  • Change diapers only in designated areas.
  • Do not permit children who have diarrhea to attend water parks.

At Moms Against Cooties, we think that these simple steps could limit risks and clear the path for pure summer joy.

What is your family’s favorite thing to do at the water park? We’d love to hear about it.