Prevent the Spread of Germs When Enjoying Splash Pads

As the warm and soon-to-be hot weather beckons Alabamians to lakes, pools, and beaches, we are reminded to keep health and safety in mind. Each year Alabama joins in observing Healthy and Safe Swimming Week, and this year the week of May 23-29 has been set aside to raise awareness about the importance of healthy and safe use of splash pads.

Alabama, together with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), conducts educational outreach to prevent illness and injury linked to the water in which we swim, play, relax, and share, to maximize health benefits for everyone. Swimmers, parents, aquatics staff, residential pool or hot tub/spa owners, and others all play a role in preventing illnesses and injury.

A new report from the CDC shows that during 2015-2019, more than 200 outbreaks were linked to pools, hot tubs, and water playgrounds. Nonhygienic behaviors (sitting or standing on water jets) can contribute to exposure to germs on splash pads. According to the CDC, 2,300 people were infected with Cryptosporidium (or Crypto) after using a splash pad. As a result of this outbreak, the state of New York passed emergency laws to regulate splash pads. Crypto can make swimmers sick if they swallow just a mouthful of contaminated water. While most germs are killed within minutes by chlorine or bromine at the recommended levels, Crypto can survive in properly treated water for more than 7 days.

The CDC recommends the following to help stop the spread of germs in splash pads:

  • Do not swim or let others swim if sick with diarrhea.
  • Shower for at least 1 minute before you get into the water to remove dirt or anything else on your body.
  • Take kids on bathroom breaks or check diapers every hour.
  • Do not swallow the water.
  • Do not poop or pee in the water.
  • Do not sit or stand on the jets.

Properly operated and managed splash pads create healthy and safe water experiences. Sadly, the CDC reports that an illness linked to splash pad resulted in the death of a 3-year-old child from a brain infection caused by the germ Naegleria fowleri last year. Texas public health officials found that the splash pad’s water was recirculated and was not adequately disinfected.

In addition to safety at splash pads, Healthy and Safe Swimming Week always calls for awareness of the risks of drowning. Drowning remains the leading cause of injury-related death for children 1-4 years old. Approximately 2 children less than 15 years of age die from drowning each day. Children must have undivided attention and supervision around the water, because drowning is often silent and occurs very quickly.

People of all ages need to acquire basic swimming and water safety skills. While children are at highest risk, anyone can drown. Our Center for Health Statistics reports that 355 Alabama residents died from drowning in the years 2016-2020, which includes the 63 provisional deaths recorded in 2020.

Splash pads are fun on hot days and are an alternative to swimming, but there are still risks involved due to the risk of contamination. Remember to always keep safety in mind when beating the heat on a splash pad or in the water.

Scott Harris, M.D., M.P.H.
State Health Officer