"Taking the time to follow some basic precautions will keep you and your loved ones safe in the water all summer long," said Gabriella Cardone, MD, an emergency medicine pediatrician with McGovern Medical School at UTHealth and attending physician at Children's Memorial Hermann Hospital.
Before engaging in aquatic activities, make sure everyone knows how to swim or has an approved life jacket. Water noodles, inner tubes, or water wings do not count.
"Children should learn how to swim by age 4, and their parents should learn cardiopulmonary resuscitation or CPR in case of emergency," Cardone said.
Cardone, a mother of three, said children could be taught how to float as early as at one year of age. "If you are planning a summer trip to a lake or beach, schedule swimming lessons for your children ahead of time," she said.
Regardless of whether they can swim, children need to be continuously monitored. "They need your undivided attention. No talking on the smartphone. No checking social media. And, absolutely no drinking," she said. Mom and dad should not swim alone, either. "Even excellent swimmers need companions," she said. "Call it the buddy system."
There are additional precautions. If you are going to a pool, keep children away from an exposed suction outlet (drain). At the beach, keep everyone out of the water if there is a strong current or undertow. Swimmers should stay in the designated areas with lifeguards, always enter the water feet first, and know when and how to call 911.
Water shoes are a good idea at the beach and pool. It's easy to step on a sea urchin or stingray in the ocean, or broken glass at a pool. It is a good idea to keep a first-aid kit handy and your tetanus shot up to date.
Take into consideration whether someone is healthy enough for an aquatic activity.
"If you have an open wound or a weakened immune system, you may want to stay out of the water. That's because you may have a heightened risk of infection," Cardone said.
Conversely, if you have diarrhea, wait at least a week before using public pools or hot tubs to avoid spreading infection. Also, make sure children go to the bathroom before swimming. Shower with soap and water before entering a pool.
Tiny microbes in water can cause recreational waterborne illnesses, said Cynthia Chappell, Ph.D., a professor of Epidemiology, Human Genetics, and Environmental Sciences with UTHealth School of Public Health.
When the levels of bacteria (E. coli) and viruses (norovirus) rise, your risk of diarrhea and infections of the skin, eyes, ears, and lungs rises, too.
As if that is not bad enough, there are also parasites in the water. The most common are cryptosporidium and giardia, and they are spread by swallowing, breathing, or having contact with contaminated water.
"The good news is that chlorine kills bacteria in a pool. The not-so-good news is the cryptosporidium is becoming resistant to the levels of chlorine used in pools and water parks," Chappell said.
As for the ocean, officials monitor the quality of seawater and issue alerts if there is cause for concern, such as increased bacterial counts or algal blooms. "Your best bet is to stick to well-maintained pools and well-monitored beaches," Chappell said.
You can have a great time in the water this summer. You just have to take a few precautions.
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