Health officials: Take simple steps to practice water safety, protect against drowning and stay healthy

Published 7:25 am Thursday, June 2, 2022

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Officials at the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services have offered suggestions to maximize the health benefits of swimming and other water-based activities while minimizing the risk of illness, injury and death.

“Everyone can play a role in preventing illnesses and injuries when they swim, play and relax in the water — this summer and year-round,” stated a NCDHHS press release.

Drowning is a leading preventable cause of death for children. While it can happen to anyone, young children are at the highest risk. To help prevent drowning, monitor all children around pools or other bodies of water. Designate one responsible adult for every five children in the water, advises NCDHSS. Unlike the flailing depicted on television or in movies, a drowning child is more likely to slip silently underwater, which can be barely noticeable until it is too late.

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“Drowning deaths are tragic and preventable,” said Dr. Susan Kansagra, senior deputy director of NC Division of Public Health. “Now is the time to take simple steps to prevent drownings and stay safe and healthy wherever you and your family or friends gather for water recreation activities.”

To keep pools secure, close and lock or latch gates or doors every time they are used. Never prop a gate or door open. Remove or lock ladders when above-ground pools are not in use.

Pool chemicals, like chlorine, are needed to protect swimmers’ health. However, mishandling pool chemicals can cause serious, preventable injuries. Keep chemicals secure and away from children and pets, wear safety equipment when handling and never mix different pool chemicals together.

Swimming pools, spas, lakes, rivers or oceans are all potential sources of water recreation illness if the water is contaminated with germs. Recreational water illnesses typically affect a person’s stomach and intestines, skin or respiratory system. The most common symptoms are diarrhea, skin rashes, ear pain, cough or congestion and eye pain. Swallowing just a mouthful of water that contains diarrhea-causing germs can make you sick.

Review the North Carolina State Department of Environmental Quality’s coastal swimming advisory map at before heading to the beach or check with the local health department before swimming in fresh water.

Algal blooms can also cause illness, although there are no current documented reports in North Carolina. Harmful algal blooms are overgrowths of algae in water. Some produce dangerous toxins in fresh or marine water and it is best to avoid water suspected of having an algal bloom. When in doubt, stay out, advises NCDHHS.

Here are a few practical precautions:

  • Keep children and pets away from waters that appear discolored or scummy.
  • Do not handle or touch large accumulations of algae, also called “scums” or “mats.”
  • Do not water ski or jet ski over algal mats.
  • Do not use scummy water for cleaning or irrigation.
  • If you accidentally come into contact with an algal bloom, wash thoroughly.

A more serious water illness comes from primary amoebic meningoencephalitis, also called amoebic meningitis, a very rare but serious disease that leads to inflammation of the brain, which can lead to death. It’s caused by the Naegleria fowleri amoeba, a single-cell organism, that often grows in warm, untreated, stagnant water such as lakes, rivers or poorly maintained swimming pools.

PAM infection happens if water containing the Naegleria fowleri amoeba travels up the nose, through activities such as jumping, diving or falling into the water. The amoeba can then make their way to the brain, causing inflammation and destroying brain tissue. You cannot get PAM from swallowing infected water, stated the NCDHHS release.

As there is no means to eliminate this amoeba from freshwater bodies of water, in warmer areas where this infection has been more common, recommended precautions include:

  • Limit the amount of water going up your nose. Hold your nose shut, use nose clips or keep your head above water when taking part in warm freshwater-related activities.
  • Avoid water-related activities in warm freshwater during periods of high-water temperature and low water levels.
  • Avoid digging in or stirring up the sediment while taking part in water-related activities in shallow, warm freshwater areas.