Recreational water illnesses: how to keep from getting sick

With temperatures rising and the school year nearing an end, children and families will soon be headed to water parks and public pools to cool off and enjoy fun in the sun. But that fun may come with a risk of getting sick with a recreational water illness (RWI), causing symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, strong abdominal cramps, and fever.

Although pools and water parks take precautions to prevent RWIs, we found in the National Poll on Children’s Health that many people are missing the message on a key safety rule: showering before swimming.

We asked parents of children 5-12 years old about their perceptions of water park safety rules and illness risks. We found that most parents (74% of those surveyed) don’t think it’s very important for their children to shower before getting into the water. Also, 28% of parents feel the water park staff alone is responsible from making sure people don’t get sick from the water.

Most commonly, the germs that cause RWIs are carried into the water by people. The “shower before swimming” signs posted at public pools and water parks are meant to prevent germs from contaminating the water by urging people to clean themselves before swimming.

To prevent sickness from water parks, it’s important that parents understand their role. Here are some steps that parents can take to prevent recreational water illness:

  • Help children 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 to not swallow the water and avoid getting water in the mouth.
  • Do not allow children to swim when they are ill with diarrhea.