As Oklahomans gear up for a summer of fun activities on the water, the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) encourages everyone to observe healthy swimming behaviors as they increase their physical activity and enjoy their leisure time.
Healthy and safe swimming behaviors can prevent recreational water illnesses (RWIs) and injuries. RWIs are caused by swallowing or having contact with organisms in contaminated water in swimming pools, hot tubs, water parks, water play areas, fountains, lakes, or rivers. RWIs can also be caused by breathing in mists or aerosols from contaminated water. RWIs can be prevented if the public will exercise appropriate cautions.
Healthy swimming behaviors include the following:
- Do not swim when you have diarrhea. You can spread germs in the water and make other people sick.
- Don’t swallow pool or lake water. Avoid getting water in your mouth.
- Practice good hygiene: shower before swimming and wash your hands after using the toilet or changing diapers.
- Take children on bathroom breaks or change diapers often. Change diapers in a bathroom and not at poolside. Wash your child thoroughly with soap and water before swimming, especially the diapered area.
- Swimming in a well maintained swimming pool will reduce your likelihood of developing an RWI as many of the germs are killed by chlorine.
- Avoid swimming in a pool that has cloudy or off-colored water. If you cannot see the main bottom drain, stay out of the pool.
Blue-green algae continues to be present in Oklahoma lakes. Blue-green algae can produce toxins that result in illness in humans and animals. Direct contact with water that has a blue-green algae bloom can result in a skin rash; eye, ear and throat irritation; asthma-like symptoms; and diarrhea, vomiting, or abdominal cramps. Individuals are advised to avoid swimming or other recreational water activities where murkiness or mats due to blue, bright green, red, or brown algae appear in or on the water, or if the water has an unpleasant odor.
Drowning is another important concern. On average, 25 Oklahoma residents drown in Oklahoma lakes each year. To reduce the risk of drowning, the OSDH Injury Prevention Service advises to make sure that:
- Everyone knows how to swim and adults and older children know CPR.
- Children only swim in designated and well-supervised swimming areas. Children wear a properly-fitted life jacket or personal flotation device. Products such as swimming noodles and water wings are not safety devices – they should never be used in the place of life jackets or personal flotation devices.
- All individuals use a properly fitting, U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket while boating or participating in boating activities, such as water-skiing, regardless of swimming ability or experience, size of boat, or distance to be traveled.
- Remember, there is no substitute for active and continuous adult supervision when children are in or around water, even if a lifeguard is in the area!
Swimming pools pose their own set of risks. From 2007-2011, 68 children less than 5 years of age in Oklahoma drowned. More than half of these drownings occurred in swimming pools. Simple safety measures can be taken to prevent childhood drowning:
Install four-sided fencing around residential pools. Completely surround the pool with fencing that separates the house and play area from the pool.
- Use self-closing and self-latching gates that open outward and that are out of reach from children.
- Clear the pool and surrounding area of toys that may entice children to enter the pool area unsupervised and fall in.
- Use locks or alarms for doors and windows in the home that open into a pool area.
- If a child is missing, check the pool first.
- As with precautions at lakes, nothing takes the place of constant supervision of children in swimming pools. Never leave children unsupervised for even a minute.
- People under the influence of alcohol and drugs should not be supervising children.