- Dozens of people got sick at a Kansas wildlife park from splash pad water, the CDC has said.
- People caught the bugs — shigella bacteria and norovirus — from ingesting contaminated water.
- Splash pads aren't regulated and don't always get disinfected, the CDC said.
Dozens of people fell sick at a Kansas wildlife park after ingesting contaminated splash pad water, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention investigation has found.
Two outbreaks, that sickened 27 people in total, occurred days apart and involved two contagious bugs — shigella bacteria and norovirus — the CDC said in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report on Friday.
Shigella bacteria causes shigellosis, and results in bloody diarrhea, fevers, and stomach cramps, while noroviruses cause diarrhea, vomiting, and stomach pain. People can catch both bugs from ingesting contaminated water.
While some of the investigation's findings are specific to the Kansas outbreaks, others may stop people getting sick from splash pads — a general term for an outdoor play area that sprays water onto people.
Don't get splash pad water in the mouth
The CDC identified the outbreaks after the Kansas Department of Health and Environment alerted it to three people with shigellosis who visited the wildlife park on June 18.
A subsequent investigation found a shigella outbreak involving 21 people — aged between one and 15 — who had visited the park on June 11 2021 and a norovirus outbreak with six cases — aged between one and 38 — who visited the park on June 18 2021, the CDC said. The splash pad was temporarily closed on June 19 2021.
All 27 cases had gotten splash pad water in their mouth, the CDC said. Playing in the splash pad, which included jets, tipping buckets and slides, wasn't linked to getting sick, it said.
Generally, these illnesses don't require treatment. But people with underlying health conditions, may require antibiotics for shigella, and those at risk of severe dehydration from norovirus may need supportive treatment.
In the outbreak, three people with shigellosis were hospitalized for about three days, and one person with norovirus was hospitalized for a day, the CDC said.
Jets 'rinse poop off your butt'
Splash pads are generally for people younger than five, and kids are more likely than adults to contaminate the water due to poor toileting skills, the CDC said in the report. Diapers don't prevent water from contamination.
The CDC recommends people take measures to avoid spreading or catching germs like: not pooping in the water, and hourly toilet breaks.
"Sitting or standing on jets can rinse poop off your butt," the CDC says.
Chlorine kill shigella and norovirus, but many splash pads don't use it
Splash pads aren't regulated and don't always require disinfectant.
However, chlorine, in the correct concentration, can kill shigella and norovirus. With splash pads, though, it can be difficult to maintain the correct amount of germ-killing chemicals when water sprays into air.
In Kansas, after spraying users, water drained and remained in a tank overnight before it was filtered, disinfected, and resprayed, rather than being continuously recirculated, filtered, and chlorinated. It didn't have an automated system to maintain the correct chlorine concentration, the CDC said.
The wildlife park implemented these changes and re-opened on July 24. There haven't been reports of splash-pad illness since, the CDC said.