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Fountain Frolicking Can Be Fun, but Dangerous


WebMD Health News

June 29, 2000 -- Running through a sprinkler on a hot summer day is a childhood rite of passage no kid should miss. But running through one of the interactive fountains spouting up at community pools and parks around the country may warrant more caution.

A new report from the CDC documents a case of an outbreak of intestinal illnesses linked to an interactive water fountain at a beachside park in Daytona, Fla., last summer. This is the type of fountain where water shoots straight up from holes in the ground. Recreational fountains of this type are becoming more common, and sometimes kids and adults even frolic in similar public fountains meant to be decorative.

The problem was noticed in Florida after reports started coming in to a local Orlando health department about sick children. A case study was started where 86 park visitors were interviewed; some of whom were people with ill family members. Just under half of the 86 people, 38 exactly, reported an illness that met the case definition of abdominal cramps or diarrhea. There were other complaints of fever, vomiting, and bloody diarrhea, symptoms brought on by two bacteria, Shigella sonnei and Cryptosporidium parvum.

The average age of the sick kids was 8 years old, with the youngest being 2, whereas most of the people who were not affected were older, around 15 years old. All 38 people said they had entered the fountain; 36 of them ingested some of the water, and others said they also had food and drinks while at the fountain.

Valerie Garrett, MD, an epidemiologist with the food-borne and diarrheal diseases branch of the CDC, describes the fountain as an "unregulated open-air facility." She says the problem was probably even worse than they documented, because it was estimated about 4,800 people had passed through that park during the period in question.

"This was down in the Dayton Beach area, so a great number of these people may have been tourists, would not have come forward, or even seen a local health care provider, but would have returned somewhere else," Garrett tells WebMD.

Upon further inspection, it was discovered that the fountain used recirculated water, which is typical. But the chlorination system to treat the water in this fountain was not monitored and was probably lacking. There was no filtering system. Add hordes of diapered and toddler-aged children, and you have a recipe for contamination.

Interactive fountains are "popping up all over because they have a very low risk of drowning, they're very popular with families of young children, children who are at increased risk for fecal accidents and at increased risk for swallowing water, so basically increased risk of both contamination and transmission," Garrett says.

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