Prevent Illness and Injury while Enjoying the Water

May 20, 2016

For More Information Contact:

Matthew LiPani, central region public information officer

Virginia Department of Health Encourages Safe and Healthy Swimming Practices

(Richmond, Va.)  The weekend before Memorial Day marks the unofficial start of summer and signals the opening of many pools and water parks across the Commonwealth, as well as an increase in visits to Virginia’s beaches, lakes and rivers.  The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) urges everyone to take precautions to keep you and your family healthy and safe while enjoying the water.

“Parents of young children should be particularly aware of actions they can take to keep themselves and their children healthy and safe during recreational water activities.  Children are among those most at risk for developing waterborne illness and swimming-related injuries, and especially most at risk for drowning,” says Dr. Marissa Levine, State Health Commissioner.  “Last Memorial Day Weekend there were seven drownings in Virginia, six of which were children under 9 years of age. We all need to commit to taking every precaution to prevent such tragic losses.”

Prevent Injury

Time spent in and around pools, lakes, and beaches can be a fun and rewarding experience, but serious swimming-related injuries can occur in the water. In fact, drowning is one of the leading causes of injury and death among children aged 1 to 4 years in Virginia. To reduce the risk of drowning and injuries, VDH provides the following recommendations:

  • Learn to swim and teach children to swim. Formal swimming lessons can reduce the risk of drowning, especially among children aged 1 to 4 years. Unclimbable five foot fences installed to separate pools and spas from residences, with openings no wider than 4 inches, can help prevent accidental drownings.
  • Never leave a child alone near a standing body of water, and designate a responsible adult to watch children while swimming or playing in or around the water. Remove toys from the pool and surrounding area immediately after swimming so children aren’t tempted to enter pool areas unsupervised.
  • Learn cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). A life can be saved while waiting for paramedics to arrive. Have rescue equipment by pools, post 9-1-1 emergency information, and have an emergency action plan.
  • 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. Never rely on water wings, noodles, or swimming lessons to protect a child in these natural waters where currents or an undertow could be present.
  • With any recreational water activity, always use the buddy system and be aware of local weather conditions, dangerous waves, and rip currents. Avoid the use of alcohol and drugs while boating and before and during swimming.

Prevent Illness

Popular water attractions can also pose a risk of illness caused by germs spread through swallowing water, breathing in mists, having contact with contaminated water in swimming pools, hot tubs, water play areas such as splash pads and interactive fountains, as well as natural bodies of waters such as lakes, rivers, or oceans.  Gastrointestinal illness is the most common type of illness, and may include symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea.  Other symptoms associated with recreational water illness include eye, skin, or respiratory irritation, neurologic illness, and ear or wound infections. To prevent illnesses, VDH provides the following recommendations:

  • Avoid getting water in your mouth, and especially do not swallow it. Children are more likely to swallow or accidentally inhale water and are at greater risk of illness due to developing immune systems.
  • Don’t swim when you are ill. You can spread germs in the water and make other people sick.
  • Avoid getting water up your nose, especially during the summer in lakes where water is shallow or stagnant. Use a nose clip or plug your nose prior to going under the water.
  • Some public beaches in Virginia are monitored for bacteria levels in the water. Look for swimming advisory signs, which indicate the water is not safe for recreational activity.
  • Avoid swimming in natural waters for a few days after a heavy rain event.
  • Do not swim in natural waters if you have a cut or open wound. Salt water will not disinfect wounds. All natural waters contain bacteria which could infect wounds.
  • Make sure your children have bathroom breaks, and check diapers often. Waiting to hear “I have to go” might be too late.
  • If you become ill after being in the water, report your water activities to your medical provider. While you may not have necessarily been sickened by a waterborne pathogen, this information can assist your doctor in making an accurate diagnosis.
  • Shower with soap and water before and after swimming.

Be Mosquito Smart

Warm weather and water activities may also bring opportunities for contact with mosquitoes.  Bites from mosquitos are not only itchy, but may also transmit diseases. VDH recommends taking the following precautions when swimming or spending time near pools or natural waters:

  • Properly maintain backyard and other outdoor pools. Abandoned pools may be used as mosquito breeding sites.  If pools or spas are covered, check to make sure standing water is not accumulating on top of the cover.
  • Drain temporary or ‘kiddie’ pools when not in use.
  • Use Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered insect repellents.
  • Reapply insect repellent as directed, especially after being in the water.
  • If you are also using sunscreen, apply sunscreen before applying insect repellent.

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