Be alert when cooling down this holiday
While many of us look forward to taking a well-deserved break during the December and January school holiday, everyone should be on high alert and vigilant when around water.
The latest Western Cape Injury and Mortality Profile (2016 to 2010) reveals that drowning claims an average of 200 lives each year. Parents and caretakers should take exceptional caution when youngsters are near water as at least 35% of all deaths due to drowning in the Province are of children younger than five years. Even a near-drowning can have a major impact on the development of a child. Brain injuries due to near-drowning incidents at this tender stage can lead to physical disabilities, seizures and memory loss, among others.
Accidental drowning is the second leading cause of injury and death in children in this age group, and the highest numbers of such drownings were recorded in the Prince Albert, Cederberg and the Witzenberg Sub-districts. “It is disheartening that families’ lives come to an abrupt end because of drowning. In many cases, drowning can be prevented. Good supervision is key,” says Handri Liebenberg, Deputy Director of Comprehensive Health at the Cape Winelands District Office.
Areas that claim the most lives are swimming pools and bodies of water like dams, and storage tanks, followed by the ocean and rivers.
Responding when someone is in trouble
Remember that someone who is drowning is often too tired to wave or call for help. If you notice someone who seems to struggle to swim or can’t keep their head above the water, you should:
- Call for help
- If safe, try to get the person out of the water and turn them on their side, to help them cough out water
- Turn the person onto their back and breathe air into their mouth while pinching the nose closed
- Can you see the person’s chest rise up and down? Can you hear breathing sounds? Are there any signs of life? If not, repeat the breaths while pinching the person’s nose closed and look for signs of breathing until help arrives.
Keep a close eye on your child even after swimming or being around water. If in the 48 hours after your child has been swimming, they have a cough, chest pain, trouble breathing or is unusually tired or sleepy, you must get medical help. It may be that your child is experiencing secondary drowning. In a case of secondary drowning, water fills up the lungs like when someone drowns, but the symptoms may only show up to 48 hours after an incident in the water.
Minimise the risk of drowning
Be alert this holiday season and take care to:
- Cover or fence areas where there are pools, dams and water tanks.
- Teach children to never go swimming without permission and adult supervision.
- Never place children under the care of other children.
- Children wearing floatation devices should still be watched.
- If lifeguards are present, swim in the area where they are on duty.
- Never consume alcohol before swimming.
- Avoid swimming near rocks.
- Never dive into shallow water or bodies of water where you cannot see the bottom.