Medical Advice

Medical Advice

Tips for Preventing Drowning and Recreational Water Illnesses

As Florida’s summer weather begins to heat up, it’s the perfect time of year to cool down by the water.  Swimming and other water-related activities are great forms of exercise when it gets too hot outside.  Although water activities can be fun and relaxing, they do not come without risk.

This is a time of year when recreational water injuries and illnesses increase.  Swimming and boating are two of the most popular summer activities for people living in or visiting Florida.  Whether it be relaxing by the pool, playing in water parks or splash pads, or swimming in fresh bodies of water, Florida residents should be aware of healthy and safe practices in and around the water.

Water related injuries such as drowning are very serious.  Drowning is the leading cause of death in children ages 1-4 and Florida has the highest rate of child drownings under the age of 5 in the continental U.S.  Polk County has the 11th highest child drowning rate in the State.  With over 500 lakes in Polk County, residents spend a significant amount of time in and around the water.  Here are some important water safety tips:

  • Supervise swimming at all times.  Make sure children have close adult supervision when near the water.
  • Ensure water barriers are in place. Water barriers include child-proof locks on all doors, a four-sided fence (at least 5 feet tall) separating the pool from the house, gates with self-latching/self-closing mechanisms, and door alarms.
  • Enroll swimmers in swimming lessons.  Children, adolescents, and adults should learn how to swim.  Swimming lessons are not a substitute for swimming supervision.
  • Know how to perform CPR.  It only takes four to six minutes without oxygen to cause lasting brain damage.  Valuable life-saving seconds can be lost if waiting for EMS to arrive before beginning CPR.
  • Wear life-vests when boating.  Make sure that everyone is fitted with the appropriately sized life jacket.  It is important to have proper safety equipment in case of an emergency.
  • Use sunscreen. Be sure to use sunscreen with SPF 15 or greater and both UVA and UVB protection.  Be sure to reapply after swimming to prevent skin cancer.

Water related illnesses are also important to be aware of this summer.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), recreational water illnesses (RWIs) are caused by germs and chemicals found in swimming water.  They are spread by swallowing, breathing in mists, or having contact with contaminated water in swimming pools, hot tubs, water parks, water play areas, interactive fountains, lakes, rivers, or oceans.

RWIs can be a wide variety of infections, including gastrointestinal, skin, ear, respiratory, eye, neurologic, and wound infections.  Here are some important tips to preventing water related illnesses:

  • Do not swim if you have diarrhea.
  • Avoid swallowing swimming water.
  • Keep germs out of the water in public swimming or bathing places.
  • Do not swim with open cuts, abrasions, or wounds.
  • Avoid swimming or wading in warm freshwater during periods of high water temperature and low water levels.
  • Hold the nose shut or use nose clips when swimming in warm freshwater.
  • Avoid digging in or stirring up the sediment in shallow, warm freshwater areas.

Water related activities are a great way to enjoy the Florida summer, but it’s important to remember safe and healthy practices in and around the water.  By practicing healthy and safe water related activities, everyone’s summer can be safer, healthier, and a little more enjoyable.

For more information about healthy and safe swimming this summer, visit the CDC website at  For more information about drowning prevention information, visit

by JOY JACKSON, MD, Director of DOH-Polk

About the Author: Dr. Joy Jackson, an internal medicine physician, serves the community as director of the Florida Department of Health in Polk County (DOH-Polk).  For more information about DOH-Polk, visit


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