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Fountain Frolicking Can Be Fun, but Dangerous

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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.

Both of the bacteria in this case are transmitted by swallowing stool-contaminated water, explains Garrett, so "we think if aggressive measures are taken to adequately chlorinate and filter water, that the number of outbreaks would decrease significantly."

One of the bacteria, C. parvum, is not killed by chlorine, but filtering the water can catch it. There also is a risk no matter what because the water takes 30 minutes to recirculate, so Garrett says no fix is "instantaneous." The CDC does have some recommendations to help prevent illness.

To avoid contaminating the water:

  • No adults or kids should ever enter any water attraction if they have diarrhea.
  • People should bathe before entering the water area to reduce risk of contamination.
  • If a child is in diapers, know that diapers do not prevent leakage of stool (even newly designed swim diapers).
  • Monitor a diaper-aged child for bowel movement, remove from water, change, and clean with soap and water.
  • Avoid sitting on or over water jets because this can increase risk of contaminating the water.

To stop transmission:

  • Simply don't drink the water.

Garrett says this last recommendation is a huge behavior modification to teach children, at best. "It's pretty tough when you have 4-year-olds who love to play with water in their mouths and mimic the interactive fountain, which is spurting water."

Public officials eventually closed the water fountain in this case and put in new control measures that are "excellent," according to Garrett. Chlorine monitor and filtration systems were installed, a sign was posted saying don't drink the water, and kids in diapers were excluded.

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