Study: Swim Diapers Ineffective for Preventing Illness

A new scientific study demonstrates that swim diapers will not prevent the spread of the most common cause of documented recreational water illness (RWI), Cryptosporidium (Crypto).

Scientists from the University of North Carolina-Charlotte (UNC-Charlotte) reported at the Swimming Pool & Spa International Conference in London earlier this spring that swim diapers help slow the release of disease-causing germs, but the benefits are short lived. Crypto is spread when swimmers ingest some water that has been contaminated by diarrhea from infected people or mammals. To prevent the spread of Crypto, officials advise that people should not get in the water if they have diarrhea.

The researchers measured the amount of microspheres that released from swim diapers worn by children. The microspheres have a similar size (five microns) to that of Crypto. Normal swim trunks, common disposable diapers, and reusable diapers with and without vinyl diaper covers were tested. Swimming trunks without a swim diaper of any kind had the poorest performance -- almost 90 percent of the microspheres were released into the water within one minute.

Swim diapers released about 50 percent of the microspheres within one minute. A vinyl diaper cover placed over a disposable swim diaper slightly improved performance. Still, over 25 percent were released into the water within two minutes. "When a fecal accident contains about a billion disease-causing Crypto oocysts, hundreds of millions of oocysts get into the water within minutes," explains James Amburgey, Ph.D., the lead scientist in the study. "Swimmers only need to ingest about 10 Crypto oocysts to become infected."

Crypto is a parasite that causes severe diarrhea and dehydration. This germ is highly resistant to chlorine used in pools. As infected bathers visit other pools, the outbreak spreads to other facilities. Crypto outbreaks continue to increase and thousands have been impacted in recent years, including statewide outbreaks in New York, Utah, and Texas. Crypto will be discussed at the World Aquatic Health(TM) Conference in Atlanta, Georgia, Oct. 28-30.

The UNC-Charlotte research is the first scientific evaluation of swim diaper-use to shield against Crypto outbreaks. Swim diapers are widely used around the world at public and private pools to contain solid fecal accidents. "This study confirms that parental restraint is the key to preventing Crypto outbreaks -- not swim diapers. Swimming with diarrhea is irresponsible because it places other people's health at risk," reinforces Thomas M. Lachocki, Ph.D., chief executive officer of the National Swimming Pool Foundation(R), which funded the research.

Founded in 1965, NSPF is a non-profit dedicated to improving public health worldwide by encouraging healthier living through aquatic education and research. NSPF is the leading educator of aquatic facility operators and the chief philanthropic research sponsor in the aquatics field.

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