Waterborne Illnesses at Water Parks

Swimming recreationally naturally puts people at risk of ingesting or coming into contact with germs and chemicals in the water. In fact, 3600 people became sick, and 13 died due to diseases from water parks and recreational water sites between 2015 and 2019.

These waterborne illnesses are a significant concern for water park managers, as they can result in negative press, unhappy patrons, and even lawsuits when parkgoers become ill. Park managers need to understand the most common waterborne illnesses and how to prevent visitors from catching them.

What Causes Recreational Waterborne Illnesses?

Waterborne illnesses are spread by coming into contact with pathogens found in contaminated water. These may cause a wide range of issues, such as skin, ear, eye, wound, and respiratory infections, with common symptoms including:

  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Stomach cramps
  • Fever

One cause is improper disinfectant and pH levels at water parks. Chlorine and other pH-maintaining chemicals are used to regulate recreational waters, with proper pool and water sanitation preventing most waterborne illnesses. Common signs of improper disinfectant and pH levels include:

  • Murky water that obscures the bottom of the pool
  • A strong chlorine smell caused by chemical irritants known as chloramines
  • Foam or a scum line in the pool

Swimmers must also be encouraged to exercise proper hygiene, as visitors will become ill due to contact with fecal matter. While chlorine will help kill germs, it doesn’t do so instantly, meaning swimmers can spread germs quickly, even in well-maintained pools.

Also read: Amusement and Entertainment Industry Trends for 2023

Which Pathogens Should Parks Be Aware of?

Approximately half a dozen common pathogens result in waterborne illnesses, which can all be managed with proper pool and water sanitation. These are:

  1. E. Coli and Shigella: Both causing similar symptoms, these pathogens could cause swimmers to experience blood in their stool or even kidney damage.
  2. Legionella: More commonly known as legionnaire’s disease, Legionella causes respiratory problems and can even result in pneumonia if left untreated.
  3. Norovirus: Caused by ingesting infected stool or vomit, this pathogen could result in severe gastrointestinal problems.
  4. Cryptosporidium: Known as crypto for short, Cryptosporidium causes gastrointestinal illnesses.
  5. Nontuberculous mycobacteria: Swimmers that inhale or come into contact with unsanitized water vapor containing this pathogen can have severe allergic reactions.
  6. Giardia: Outlasting chlorine by 45 minutes, Giardia often causes infected people to experience diarrhea.

Another common infection is “hot tub rash,” when water contaminated with the germ pseudomonas aeruginosa stays on a swimmer’s body for too long. Hot tub rash shows up a few days after swimming in a contaminated pool and can cause a severe rash or blisters.

What Can Parks Do to Protect Parkgoers?

Every water park needs an outbreak prevention plan, with extensive training at the forefront. Appropriate staff must undergo mandatory training in maintaining pH levels and disinfectant, as well as how to identify contaminated water. Staff should also be trained to respond and maximize guest safety if an outbreak occurs.

Not only will being proactive prevent outbreaks, but a regular inspection schedule bolstered by licensed professionals will also help identify problems before they occur. This will allow park managers to determine further processes or equipment are needed or if the park should invest in additional (or different) pool sanitation technology.

Also read: Put Safety First With a Venue Risk Assessment

How Can Parks Help Swimmers Avoid Waterborne Illnesses?

Parks should also distribute swimmer hygiene information to parkgoers, containing the following guidance on hygiene:

  • Shower before partaking in any water-based activities.
  • Bathe children and toddlers before allowing them in the pool, and wash hands thoroughly after changing diapers.
  • Children should frequently be taken to the restroom.
  • Consider wearing earplugs or dry ears after exiting the pool.
  • Do not swim if you are sick with conditions such as diarrhea.
  • Do not drink the pool water, and avoid swallowing the water whenever possible.

Any distributed information should also help parkgoers understand that it is their responsibility to be hygienic. Following the guidance above will significantly help reduce the risk of catching waterborne illnesses, as parkgoers should also be encouraged to learn the signs of a contaminated pool, such as murky water or a strong chlorine smell.

An Extra Layer of Defense

A proactive approach and outbreak prevention plan will help managers maintain the water quality of their park. With the proper training, planning, and maintenance, parks can prevent most waterborne illnesses while improving their reputation.

However, waterborne illnesses are still a likely occurrence at parks of any size. In those instances, parks must be able to rely on their insurance coverage to help with any legal costs and mitigate risk.

McGowan Program Administrators’ Amusement & Entertainment Insurance provides coverage and loss-control services for amusement parks and water parks, safeguarding them from the adverse effects of waterborne illness outbreaks. Learn more about our highly customizable insurance programs here, or contact us at 800-545-1538.

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