Millions of families are dreaming of ways to beat the heat with trips to the beach, lake, pool or waterpark – this can be a fun and safe way to cool off. However, you might not be thinking about the germs often found in even the cleanest recreational water spaces. Here’s what you need to know about what’s in the water – and how to have fun while also protecting your family from getting tummy troubles, or worse.
One particularly pesky bug is Crypto (Cryptosporidium). It is one of the most common causes of diarrhea-related illness associated with all types of recreational water, even well maintained swimming pools. You get Crypto by swallowing contaminated water. Last summer saw an increase in the detection of this parasite in stools submitted to our lab for testing. This outbreak resulted in closing several swimming pools and a lot of unhappy kids!
KEEPING IT CLEAN. Most of the time, public water spaces become contaminated through tiny amounts of fecal matter (poop) that kids – or adults – haven’t completely cleaned off of their bodies. Even a small amount of feces can carry millions of germs. It’s always a good idea to shower before and after a dip – to make sure you aren’t carrying ‘bugs’ in or out. Remind your kids not to spit or swallow water accidentally or for fun. You may also want to invest in nose plugs – since germs can get into the body that way, too.
DIFFERENT GERMS – SIMILAR SYMPTOMS. Even treated water can harbor millions of microscopic parasites, bacteria and viruses – all of which can lead to severe diarrhea, vomiting and/or fever. While the symptoms may be very similar, the treatment can vary greatly depending on the cause. Rapid diagnosis is critical to prevent dehydration, so doctors will often conduct tests to determine what’s causing the diarrhea. Nationwide Children’s offers a highly specialized molecular test that targets 20 common gastrointestinal pathogens that cause infectious diarrhea. Once the sample reaches the lab, results are available within about 2 hours, so kids can get the right treatment as quickly as possible.
CHLORINE DOESN’T (ALWAYS) CLEANSE. Chlorinated and filtered water can cut down on germs significantly, but it doesn’t kill all of them instantly. Some types of “bugs” can live for minutes, hours or even days in chlorinated water. In water parks that share filtration systems, germs from just one person can easily spread from one side of the park to the other within minutes.
POOL DIAPERS: FALSE SECURITY. Manufacturers won’t claim that pool diapers can hold in all fecal matter – because they simply don’t. Rather than rely completely on pool diapers or rubber pants – take your child on frequent potty breaks, check diapers often and never change a diaper poolside.
SICK? SIT IT OUT. If your child a cold, an open wound, diarrhea or has been vomiting – do not take her to the pool. It only takes a few germs in the water to pass an illness from one person to the next.
NATURAL NOT NECESSARILY SAFER. Oceans, rivers and lakes have natural appeal, but they can become polluted with sewage spills and animal waste, especially after a lot of rain. And of course, these water sources aren’t treated with any disinfectants, either. Local state departments will often have a record of how clean local lakes and rivers are.
WHEN TO GO TO THE DOCTOR. If your child has worsening or bloody diarrhea, a fever higher than 101˚F, or vomiting that doesn’t improve within 24 hours – and you’ve been in a public water space within the last few days – it’s time to go to the doctor or urgent care.