In 2006, in Toledo, Ohio, Wanda Butts received the call no parent wants to receive or hear. She was in a complete state of shock when she found out her son was dead. Her son had drowned while rafting on a lake with friends. He did not know how to swim and was not wearing a life jacket.
This situation has become too common for parents of young or even older children at the pool, beach, or wherever there is water. So often we worry about our children’s safety when it comes to violence or driving, but water accidents never cross our minds. The basics of learning how to swim is very often overlooked, especially for the African American community.
According to USA Swimming, 70% of African American children cannot swim, compared with nearly 60% for Hispanic children and 42% for white children. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), African American children between the ages of 5 and 14 are three times more likely to drown than white children in the same age range. Drowning is often referred to as the “silent killer”, because most victims slip beneath the water without a sound. This summer, let’s make water safety a priority in our community.
June 14 is the last day of the school year for most of our area children, and that means more children will be outside enjoying the summer weather and activities. One popular outside activity to cool off during the summer months includes taking a dip in the community or a neighbor’s backyard swimming pool or visiting the water park attractions, local beaches, lakes, and streams. Summer is a special time for having fun in the water, yet according to the National Traffic Safety Institute, drowning is the second leading cause of unintentional death. Each year, more than 1,000 children under the age of 14 drown. Another 16,000 are rushed to the hospital for near-drowning situations.
A new study is out showing that swimming injuries are up by nearly 20 percent in the United States. This means by the end of the day another 250 children will be rushed to the hospital to be treated for injuries while swimming, underscoring the need for safety measures and proper supervision. The Virginia Department of Health reminds everyone to avoid illness and injury while enjoying the water.
“Children are often the most susceptible to recreational water illnesses and injuries, especially drowning,” said State Health Commissioner Cynthia C. Romero, MD, FAAFP. “So it is important for adults to stay alert, be mindful of potential risks, provide close supervision and take preventive measures to keep children, as well as themselves and others, healthy and safe in and around the water.”
Although fatalities and non-fatal injuries continue to occur from recreational water usage, drowning and water-related injuries are often preventable. In 2012, there were 81 unintentional deaths due to drowning in Virginia with the majority (69 percent) occurring in natural waters and 22 percent in swimming pools and bathtubs.
Children ages four and under are at the greatest risk. Many adults do not realize that a child can drown in as little as one inch of water. For older teens and adults, age 15 and up, most drownings occur in natural settings like lakes, rivers and oceans. Alcohol is a factor in nearly half the drownings in this age group, according to the CDC.
“Teaching kids to swim and water safety skills is a lifetime investment in preventing water related deaths.” said Dr. Emogene Johnson Vaughn, Health and Physical Education Professor at Norfolk State University.
Researchers at Nationwide Children’s Hospital looked at 18 years of data from the nation’s emergency rooms, gathered from1990 to 2008, and found:
- A child is hurt every six minutes while swimming.
- The number of injuries went up 18.6 percent.
- Most injuries were to the face, head or neck.
- Kids seven to 17 were the most likely to be injured.
- Boys sustained more injuries than girls, across all age groups.
[VIDEO] RED CROSS WATER SAFETY TIPS:
To reduce the risk of drowning and water-related injuries, and keep your summer fun and tragedy-free:
- Teach children to swim. Participation in formal swimming lessons can reduce the risk of drowning among children between 1 and 4 years old.
- Never leave a child alone near water, and always designate a responsible adult to supervise children swimming or playing in or around the water.
- Learn Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR). You can save a life while waiting for paramedics to arrive.
- When boating in open waters, be sure to wear U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets, regardless of the distance to be traveled, the size of the boat or the swimming ability of the boaters.
- With any recreational water activity always use the buddy system, be aware of local weather conditions, do not consume alcohol before or during recreational water activities, avoid swimming after dark, do not dive into unknown or shallow areas and watch out for dangerous waves or rip currents.
It is also important to take precautions to prevent the spread of germs caused by swallowing, breathing in mists or having contact with germs in contaminated water in swimming pools, hot tubs, lakes, rivers, oceans or other water bodies. The most common illnesses are gastrointestinal infections. Symptoms may include nausea, vomiting or diarrhea. Other illnesses associated with recreational water can result in eye, skin, ear, and respiratory, neurologic and wound infections.
- Look for swimming advisory signs before entering the water. These may indicate that the bacterial levels in the water are unsafe for recreational activity.
- During hot summer months, caution is recommended regarding swimming in stagnant or shallow freshwater.
- Avoid getting water in your mouth or having water shoot up your nose. Do not swallow pool, lake, river, or ocean water.
- Don’t swim when you are ill. You can spread germs in the water and make other people sick.
- Shower with soap before swimming and wash your hands after using the bathroom or changing diapers. Germs on your body can end up in the water.
- Wash your child thoroughly with soap and water before swimming.
- Make sure your children have bathroom breaks, and check diapers often. Waiting to hear “I have to go” might be too late.
Whether you’re hopping in a canoe for a short paddle around a quiet lake, or jetting off on a motor boat for the day, remember that life jackets save lives. After boating accidents, 90% of people who drown were not wearing life jackets, according to the CDC. In 2009, there were 736 deaths and more than 3,300 injuries in boating accidents.
Become an Advocate for Swimming Safety
We all share the water we swim in, and we each play an essential role in helping to protect ourselves, our families, and our friends.
This summer, let’s make water safety a priority in our community.