Editorial - Awareness needed to address spike in drowning casesDrowning numbers are up in Minnesota. So far this year, at least 25 people have died in non-boating drownings – one of the highest totals in a decade.
Drowning numbers are up in Minnesota.
So far this year, at least 25 people have died in non-boating drownings – one of the highest totals in a decade. Last year there were 13 drownings.
Although the heat and humidity may be factors, nobody knows exactly why there’s been so many water-related deaths. The drownings have happened in lakes and pools and have taken the lives of boaters and swimmers.
News of drownings strikes a tragic chord in our area. Just a couple of years ago, a 6-year-old girl from Carlos, Kortni Botzet, drowned in a hot tub at the Holiday Inn in Alexandria. Her family held an event in her memory on July 14 and one of the goals was to increase awareness about water safety.
It’s an issue that deserves more attention.
Anne Polta, who reports on health care for the West Central Tribune of Willmar, provided some telling statistics and facts about drowning in her blog, “Health Beat,” which appeared on the Echo Press website last week. Polta noted:
• Children are the most vulnerable to drowning – and this seems to be true worldwide, not just in the United States. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drowning is the second leading cause of injury-related deaths in the U.S. among children ages 1 to 4.
• The majority of drowning deaths among American children happen in swimming pools, not lakes or rivers.
• Most – although not all – drowning victims are male.
• Factors that often lead to drowning include alcohol use, risky behavior and lack of supervision.
• There are less well known risk factors as well: lower socioeconomic status, less education and rural residency.
• Some demographic groups also seem to be more at risk than others. A study done in Canada a couple of years ago found that new immigrants are more vulnerable to drowning, probably because many of them never learned how to swim. Other studies have found similar issues among African-American children.
Polta mentioned an article published this spring in the New England Journal of Medicine that concluded that if you adjust for exposure to swimming vs. exposure to traffic crashes, drowning deaths are 200 times more common than deaths from crashes.
Polta wrote that one of the myths about drowning, abetted by television and the movies, is that people who are drowning will splash around and yell for help. The reality is that drowning oftentimes is silent; indeed, someone who’s going under often isn’t even capable of waving or yelling. Many swimmers who get into trouble are never noticed until they’re found submerged in the water.
Water safety experts, Polta noted, also point to the importance of swimming where there’s a lifeguard and sticking to beaches and lakes with which you’re familiar.
“Finally, don’t assume that good swimmers never drown,” Polta wrote. “Fatigue, cramps and even unexpected injuries or a medical emergency can overwhelm the strongest of swimmers. I’ve heard anecdotally of skilled swimmers who got into trouble because they hyperventilated in order to hold their breath under water and ended up blacking out.”
The bottom line: Before heading out for a day of fun on the lake or in the pool, take some simple precautions, don’t swim alone, avoid excessive alcohol, be aware of your surroundings, keep an eye out for others in the water and wear a life jacket if you’re an inexperienced swimmer. Don’t let a fun day on the water end in tragedy.