To the Editor:
The State Department of Health encourages healthy and safe swimming behaviors to prevent recreational water illnesses and injuries.
RWIs are caused by germs spread by swallowing or having contact with contaminated water in swimming pools, hot tubs, water parks, play areas, fountains, lakes, rivers or oceans. They can also be spread by breathing in mists or aerosols from contaminated water. RWIs can be prevented if you:
• Avoid swimming when you have diarrhea.
• Avoid swallowing pool or lake water.
• Shower before swimming and wash your hands after using the toilet or changing diapers. Take children on bathroom breaks or change diapers often. Change diapers in a bathroom and not at poolside.
• Swimming in a well-maintained swimming pool will reduce your likelihood of developing an RWI as many of the germs are killed by chlorine.
• Avoid swimming in a pool that has cloudy or off-colored water or if you can’t see the main bottom drain.
• Lakes aren’t chlorinated and can pose a risk for an RWI including primary amebic meningoencephalitis. PAM is a very rare, usually fatal disease caused by an ameba that grows in very warm surface waters such as lakes, ponds and rivers. Warm water temperatures allow the ameba to multiply. PAM may be prevented by not diving or dunking your head in warm, shallow bodies of fresh water. Hold the nose shut or use nose clips to keep water from entering the nose.
• Blue-green algae can produce toxins that result in illness. Contact with water that has a blue-green algae bloom can result in a skin rash; eye, ear and throat irritation; asthma-like symptoms; and diarrhea, vomiting, or abdominal cramps. Avoid recreational water activities where mats of algae appear on the water.
Drowning is another important concern. To reduce the risk of drowning, make sure that:
• Everyone knows how to swim and adults and older children know CPR.
• Children only swim in designated and well-supervised swimming areas, and wear a properly-fitted life jacket or personal flotation device. Products such as swimming noodles and water wings are not safety devices and should never be used in the place of life jackets or personal flotation devices.
• All individuals use a properly fitting, U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket while boating or participating in boating activities, such as water-skiing, regardless of swimming ability or experience, size of boat, or distance to be traveled.
Swimming pools pose their own set of risks.
• Install four-sided fencing around residential pools that separates the house and play area from the pool. Use self-closing and self-latching gates that open outward and are out of reach from children.
• Clear the pool and surrounding area of toys that may entice children to enter the pool area unsupervised and fall in.
• Use locks or alarms for doors and windows in the home that open into a pool area.
• If a child is missing, check the pool first.
• Never leave children unsupervised for even a minute. People under the influence of alcohol and drugs should not be supervising children.
For more information regarding water-related injuries and prevention, please visit www.ok.gov/health for more information.
—Oklahoma State Health Department