Virginia Department of Health urges safety in recreational waters

newspaper-headerAs the days get warmer, people begin heading to Virginia’s local beaches, lakes, streams and nearby swimming pools and water parks to cool off. 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.


Prevent Injury

To reduce the risk of drowning and water-related injuries:

  • ·         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, respiratory, neurologic and wound infections.


Prevent Illness

Follow these healthy swimming guidelines to help protect you, your family, and other swimmers from illness:

  • ·         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.


Protect Skin

Protect against skin damage and skin cancer by using sunscreen with sun protective factor (SPF) 15 or higher, and both UVA and UVB protection. Wear clothing to protect exposed skin, a hat with a wide brim to shade the face, head, ears and neck, and sunglasses that wrap around and block as close to 100 percent of both UVA and UVB rays as possible.

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