Supplement Feature - February 2011
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The Right Safeguards

Protecting Pool Patrons, Reducing Risk

By Wynn St. Clair

Recreational water illnesses—which are often referred to as RWIs—are caused by germs spread by swallowing, breathing in mists or aerosols of, or having contact with contaminated water in swimming pools, hot tubs, waterparks, water play areas, interactive fountains, lakes, rivers or oceans. Splash parks, in particular, have become popular breeding grounds for waterborne illnesses because they are often unsupervised and users are less vigilant than pool patrons, according to CDC officials.

Diarrhea is the most common symptom, but other common complications include skin, ear, respiratory, eye, neurologic and wound infections. Children, pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems are most at risk for RWIs, which can sometimes be fatal.

Modest investments in preventing these diseases could lead to reduced disease and significant healthcare cost savings, Beach said. Some examples of possible, low-cost interventions include public education campaigns, suitable disinfection technology, appropriate hygiene facilities and regular inspection of pools and other recreational water facilities.

Drowning Prevention Matters

Who's at risk at your aquatic facility?

Though drownings continue to decline nationwide, more than 3,000 occur each year. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention paint an interesting picture of who is most at risk and perhaps why:

  • In 2007, the most recent year available, there were 3,443 fatal unintentional drownings in the United States, averaging 10 deaths per day.
  • More than one in five fatal drowning victims are children 14 and younger. For every child who dies from drowning, another four received emergency department care for nonfatal submersion injuries.
  • Nonfatal drownings can cause brain damage that may result in long-term disabilities including memory problems, learning disabilities and permanent loss of basic functioning.
  • In 2007, males were 3.7 times more likely than females to die from unintentional drownings in the United States.
  • Between 2000 and 2007, the fatal unintentional drowning rate for African-Americans across all ages was 1.2 times that of whites. For American Indians and Alaskan Natives, this rate was 1.7 times that of whites.
  • Alcohol use is involved in up to half of adolescent and adult deaths associated with water recreation and about one in five reported boating fatalities. Alcohol influences balance, coordination and judgment, and its effects are heightened by sun exposure and heat.