When it comes to family fun, there’s no place that captures joy and wonder like a Disney theme park. From the whimsical rides to the fairytale landscapes, there’s a little something for everyone — and it’s even better if you’re OK to wait up to three hours for your favorite attraction.
Unfortunately, there’s a dark side to every magical place. Disease outbreaks have happened at Disney theme parks, and thanks to the sheer volume of people, they’ve spread like wildfire. Here’s what you need to know.
One theme park cast member recalls the sickest he’s ever been in his entire life
When an illness runs rampant through a park, who are the first to get sick? The employees, of course! As Robert, a previous worker at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, tells Theme Park Insider, meeting so many people from around the globe “immerses you in the world’s wide variety of cold and flu strains.”
Robert says he remembers the exact moment he started to fall ill. He was getting his hair cut when an “icy blast” took over his body, followed by a drenching sweat. He ended up with a severe flu strain that also brought nausea and vomiting along with it.
Measles is another one to watch out for
Since the outbreak in 2015, Disney lovers everywhere have been wary of measles. The CDC says two Disney themes parks in Orange County, California, were linked to 125 total measles cases that year. Though that’s the last time the vacation destination was associated with the disease, there’s already been another outbreak in the U.S. this year due to less and less people getting their vaccinations.
Here are the facts: The vast majority of those who end up contracting the disease are unvaccinated, and it’s still common in many parts of the world. You may be mingling with a traveler who has measles without even knowing it, so keep this in mind before you forgo vaccination.
And rashes are common, too
If you’ve ever been to a Disney theme park, you know how much walking you do in a day. Some visitors, like one blogger for Walt Express, experience a severe rash as a result of the heat and the physical activity.
Colloquially known as the “Disney rash,” it’s more formally known as exercise-induced vasculitis, Verywell explains. It typically forms right around the ankles and looks like a purple and red bruise. If you’re over 50 and walking around for hours on end in the heat, you’re more likely to develop this condition.
Mosquito-borne illnesses have scared off Disney World guests before
When Zika cropped up in Miami, Walt Disney World goers en route to Florida were worried about whether or not they may be affected. And it’s not the first time the theme park has had to worry about mosquito-borne illnesses. Back in 1997, two types of encephalitis cropped up in Florida, causing Disney World to close down certain areas of the park early, CNN reports.
In case you’re unfamiliar, Mayo Clinic explains encephalitis is inflammation of the brain caused by an infection. It can ultimately cause seizures or problems with movement, so treatment is vital.
Love the water park? Watch out for a stomach virus
There’s no better way to spend a hot summer day than in the water park. Unfortunately, recreational water illnesses run rampant in theme parks — and Disney is no exception. The CDC notes these illnesses are from swallowing or breathing in contaminated water, and if you do ingest the bacteria, you can expect a nasty stomachache.
Chlorine does kill the germs in water, this is true — but it can take up to an hour for this to happen. And some germs can live days in chlorine before dying off. This lag may leave you or your kids susceptible to illness.
And the heat can have dire consequences
Whether you’re in Florida, California, or even abroad in Tokyo or Hong Kong, you know how hot it can get at a Disney park. It’s important not to underestimate just how serious heat exhaustion and heatstroke can be. Mayo Clinic explains in hot weather, your body can overheat to the point of damaging your brain and vital organs. And if you choose to ignore your symptoms or stay out in the sun, this can result in serious complications, or even death.
If you’re walking in the park and you notice you’re feeling confused, agitated, or slurring your speech, make sure to get out of the heat and drink plenty of fluids. Your skin will also feel hot and dry to the touch if you’re having a heatstroke.
Here’s what you need to do to stay safe
The first step in staying safe is making sure you’re up to date with your vaccines, even if you’re not leaving the country. While your favorite Disney theme park may only be a few hours away, you’ll be encountering others from all over the world, which can put you at risk of infection. If you do start to feel under the weather while you’re visiting Disney World in Orlando, here are a list of first aid locations.
Aside from this, make sure you’re getting enough sleep each night to ensure your immune system is working at its best. And don’t forget the importance of washing your hands — or buy hand sanitizer at the park, since you’ll be touching a ton of surfaces that others have also made contact with.
And make sure you’re wearing the appropriate attire
While your hand sanitizer is important, so is what you’re wearing. Wear comfortable footwear and socks that completely cover your ankles to avoid blisters — you don’t want any open wounds while you’re walking around the park.
If you’re in the heat, Livestrong.com recommends steering clear of cotton fabrics and to opt for moisture-wicking gear instead. Make sure your clothes are light-colored and loose-fitting as well, as the dark colors absorb the sun’s heat. And cotton baseball caps and bandanas are also a no-go, so wear hats that have added ventilation, or headbands made of microfiber.
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