A new poll by University of Michigan researchers found that few parents make their children shower before using water parks – leaving them and other water park visitors at greater risk of getting infections from the water.
The U of M C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health asked parents of elementary school kids about their perceptions of water park risks and their opinions about basic water park rules. The sample included families who have taken their children to water parks within the past year.
“While 64 percent of parents feel it is very important for children to not swallow the water at a water park, only 26 percent of parents think it is very important to shower before getting in the water,” says Matthew Davis, M.D., director of the poll and associate professor in the Child Health Evaluation and Research Unit at the U-M Medical School. “Parents seem to understand the risk of contaminated water for their kids but few have their kids take the necessary preventive steps to keep everyone healthy.”
Water park-related infections are estimated to affect 10,000 people a year.
Most parents also may not appreciate their role in preventing recreational water infections, Davis says. While 65 percent of parents feel that preventing Recreational Water Illnesses (RWIs) is a shared responsibility between parents and water park staff, 28 percent of parents feel that water park staff alone is responsible.
“This poll shows that relatively few parents fully understand their role in preventing infections at water parks,” says Davis, who is also associate professor of public policy at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy. “The ‘shower before entering’ rule posted at water parks nationwide isn’t meant to be optional. Showering is a simple and effective way to reduce the spread of germs, including some germs like Cryptosporidium that are not killed with conventional levels of chlorine. When parents let their kids play at a water park without showering, they may be raising the risk of infection for everyone.”
Parents perceive the risk of infections from water parks as lower than the risk of drowning, Davis adds. In fact, national data indicate that infections are more common than drowning each year.
Water park staff and parents can work together to prevent infections. Staff can follow state-of-the-art steps to managing risks of cryptosporidiosis, which include treating with high levels of chlorine intermittently and using ozone or ultra-violet treatment technologies. Parents can follow these easy steps:
- Wash thoroughly with soap and water (especially for young children in the diaper region) before swimming.
- Take children on bathroom breaks or check diapers often.
- Remind children not to swallow the water and to avoid getting water in the mouth.
- Do not swim when sick with diarrhea.