Fountain Frolicking Can Be Fun, but Dangerous
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
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
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.