Graveyard Shift

Here Are All The Infections You Could Get At A Water Park  

Skyler Hanrath
13 items

While whipping around fiberglass slides in the heat of summer is the pinnacle of childhood fun, the water park loses its shine as you drift further away from the blissful ignorance that kept you afloat in your youth. These damp playgrounds all share the same inescapably disquieting qualities, including diseases you can get at a water park. Eventually, you start to see the bandages scattered about footpaths as real health risks. When you witness children devouring snow cones and rushing back into the water, you wonder what they might unintentionally bring with them.

Unfortunately, there are more ways to die at a water park than flying off a poorly designed slide. The most disturbing thing about dirty public pools and inner-tube-laden lazy rivers is their genuine threat to your health. From staph infections to E. Coli outbreaks, diseases contracted at water parks take the fun out of the sun - and may land you in the ER. 

Cryptosporidium is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list Here Are All The Infections You Could Get At A Water Park
Photo: CDC/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Per the Centers for Disease Control, the parasitic Cryptosporidium ranks as one of the leading causes of Recreational Water Illnesses (RWIs). The parasite causes watery diarrhea, cramping, nausea, and dehydration. The infections resolve without medication, though medical practitioners recommend high fluid intake. Though generally not lethal, a Cryptosporidium infection may induce worse symptoms in people with weaker immune systems.

Significant outbreaks of crypto have been linked to water parks in California and Illinois, and instances of infection remain higher among those who report getting park water in their mouths.

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Giardia lamblia is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list Here Are All The Infections You Could Get At A Water Park
Photo: CDC/Janice Haney Carr/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

As in the case of Cryptosporidium, a Giardia infection causes diarrhea, cramps, and dehydration. The origins of the parasite are enough to frighten you away from water parks forever: it’s found in soil, water, or food contaminated with feces.

Due to the varied ways a Giardia infection presents itself (it’s occasionally asymptomatic), the exact rate of infections each year remains undetermined. Estimates, however, reach well into the thousands in California alone. Some patients get better without any form of treatment, though most medical professionals will administer a form of medication.

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Shigella is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list Here Are All The Infections You Could Get At A Water Park
Photo: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Publich Health Image Library/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Another diarrhea-, cramps-, and dehydration-inducing bug, Shigella only requires a small amount to make you sick. While, like Giardia, it sometimes produces no symptoms in a host, Shigella remains just as contagious, able to spread from person-to-person in minuscule amounts.

Unfortunately, Shigella's origins are no less pleasant than Giardia’s. Both make their way into the water park via feces, where they infect park-goers who swallow tainted water. Thankfully, Shigella transmission is hampered by thorough hand-washing, and an infection generally clears up in about a week.

Norovirus is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list Here Are All The Infections You Could Get At A Water Park
Photo: Graham Beards/Wikimedia Commons/Attribution 3.0 Unported (CC BY 3.0)

While the symptoms of norovirus closely match other RWIs (vomiting, nausea, and diarrhea), its ubiquity in daily life makes it somewhat unique. The virus spreads easily through common pathways, including water, food, and contaminated surfaces. The main culprit behind most contaminated food diseases, norovirus transfers easily via water to another surface, making water parks ideal homes for the virus.

Sizable outbreaks frequently occur in highly concentrated population centers, especially health care facilities and restaurants. Norovirus is also notoriously prevalent among the packed quarters of cruise ships, a fact that earned it the designation “cruise ship virus.” As for its presence among water-park-goers, one significant outbreak of norovirus-linked gastroenteritis was confirmed via infected groundwater at a water park in Korea in 2008.

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