Warm, sunny days beg us to get outside. As temperatures climb, rivers, lakes and pools become popular spots for swimmers, sunbathers and those wanting to cool off.
Swimming is good for you and your health, but any body of water can turn from fun to deadly if you or someone you’re with can’t swim well. Team up with other people, cities’ parks and recreation departments, the YMCA or other swimming facilities to ensure everyone’s safety in and around the water. Keep the following tips in mind to stay safe while swimming:
• Always swim with a buddy. Even experienced swimmers can get tired or suffer muscle cramps in the water. If you have a problem, your buddy can help you or call for help in an emergency.
• Never leave young children alone near water and avoid distractions when supervising children around water. People younger than 12 should be supervised by an adult.
• Have young children and poor swimmers wear secure-fitting life vests.
• If you have a pool, secure it with a fence, gate or other barrier.
• If a child is missing, check the water first. Seconds count in a drowning.
• Have safety equipment nearby. Items include reaching and throwing devices, a cellphone, life jackets and a first aid kit.
• Swimming in open water is different from swimming in a pool. You need more energy to handle currents and other changing conditions in open water.
• Rivers can run high and fast from rain and snow melt, which can overwhelm even strong swimmers. Despite hot air temperatures, lakes, ponds, and rivers can still be cold and dangerous for swimmers. Hypothermia can occur quickly in cold water.
• Avoid swallowing the water. It might look clean, but even chlorinated water can carry germs that can cause sickness. Disease-causing organisms such as cryptosporidium, giardia, shigella, norovirus and E. coli O157:H7 can all be spread by swallowing, breathing or having contact with contaminated water. You can also help stop the spread of germs that cause swimming-related illnesses by staying out of the water if you have diarrhea.
• Shower with soap after swimming to remove germs, parasites and any residue that can cause illness, swimmer’s itch or skin irritation.
• If you notice a bright green color or thick scum along the shore, stay out of the water. Some blue-green algae produce toxins, which can cause illness in humans and kill pets, fish and other animals. Blue-green algae can produce nerve and liver toxins. Symptoms of neurotoxin poisoning include numbness of the lips, tingling in fingers and toes, and dizziness, which can appear within 15 to 20 minutes after ingestion. It can take hours or days before signs of liver poisoning appear. Liver toxins can cause abdominal pain, diarrhea and vomiting in people and death in animals.
• Lastly, protect your skin by wearing sunscreen with a minimum SPF factor of 15, but higher is better. Apply the sunscreen before you go outside and reapply often.
Find additional information on local swimming beaches, swimming illnesses, and lake closures at co.thurston.wa.us/health/ehadm/swimming/swimming_index.html. To report an algae bloom, call 360-867-2626, TDD line 360- 867-2603.
Swimming is a fine form of exercise for the entire family. Keeping it safe will keep it fun.
Dr. Rachel C. Wood is the Health Officer for Thurston and Lewis counties. Reach her at 360-867-2501, firstname.lastname@example.org or @ThurstonHealth on Twitter.