Summer is finally here, kids are out of school, and the weather is heating up. This combination means that families and children will be spending more time in and around lakes, rivers, streams and pools.
Keep the following tips in mind to keep your family safe and healthy while enjoying water sports this season.
Inexperienced swimmers, young children and boaters should wear a life vest.
According to the state Department of Health, Washington’s unintentional drowning rate is higher than the national average. In Thurston County, 15 residents drowned in a swimming pool or natural water body between 2010 and 2014. And only 30 percent of Thurston County 10th-graders reported always wearing a life vest while boating.
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Never leave young children alone near water, and avoid distractions when supervising children around water. Children younger than 12 years old should be supervised by an adult.
If a child is missing, check the water first. Seconds count in preventing drowning.
Secure pools with a fence, gate or other barrier. Have safety equipment on hand, like reaching and throwing devices, a cellphone, life jackets and a first-aid kit.
Skip the alcohol. Alcohol use is a factor in 25 percent to 50 percent of adolescent and adult deaths associated with water recreation.
Always swim with a buddy. Even experienced swimmers can get tired or get muscle cramps in the water. If you have a problem, your buddy can help you or call for help.
Hypothermia can occur quickly in cold water. Despite hot air temperatures, lakes, ponds and rivers can be cold and dangerous for swimmers.
Avoid swallowing the water. It may look clean, but even chlorinated water can carry germs that can cause sickness. Disease-causing organisms like cryptosporidium, giardia, shigella, norovirus and E. coli can all be spread by swallowing, breathing or having contact with contaminated water.
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 residues that can cause illness, swimmer’s itch or skin irritation.
Stay out of waters that are bright green in color or have thick scum along the shore. 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 15-20 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 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 tinyurl.com/jke632j. To report an algae bloom, call 360-867-2626.
Swimming is a great form of exercise for the entire family. Remember to keep it safe to keep it fun.
Reach Dr. Rachel C. Wood, health officer for Thurston and Lewis counties, at 360-867-2501, firstname.lastname@example.org or @ThurstonHealth on Twitter.