HOUSTON (July 28, 2014)

Drowning could be considered a silent killer – one that can happen in less than a minute and comes with no warning. As we hit the peak of summer activity this year, physicians at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital and Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center are seeing an increased number of drowning and near-drowning incidents in Houston.

“We typically see an increase in water accidents during the months of May through August; however, this year we have seen an increase in actual fatalities from drowning incidents,” said Robert Lapus, MD, Medical Director of the Pediatric Emergency Department at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital and Assistant Professor of Pediatric Emergency Medicine at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) Medical School. “With six fatalities in seven weeks, our hope is to increase awareness and prevent future occurrences.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), drowning is the number one cause of death for children ages one to four and the third leading cause of death in children under the age of 14. More than fifty percent of pediatric and adult drowning cases treated in the emergency room require long-term hospitalization.

“Education and awareness are key to saving lives,” said Cary Cain, Pediatric Trauma Prevention coordinator at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital. “When we are able to connect with parents and adult swimmers in the community and equip them with tips for water supervision and safety, we greatly decrease the odds of seeing children and adults alike in the emergency room.”

This year, Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital is helping lead educational efforts in the Houston community by partnering with the Texas Drowning and Prevention Alliance. Special “Water Watcher” tags attached to a whistle with a five-point pledge for water safety are being distributed in the pediatric emergency room and the pediatric acute care unit (PACU) to parents and caretakers visiting the hospital.

According to the Texas Drowning Prevention Alliance, the following tips are important to remember for parents and adult swimmers:

  • Supervise in or around water: Designate a responsible adult to watch young children while in the bath and all children swimming or playing in or around water. Supervisors of preschool children should provide “touch supervision” where one is close enough to reach the child at all times. Since drowning occurs quickly and quietly, adults should not be involved in any other activities such as reading, playing cards, or talking on the phone while watching children.
  • Use the buddy system: Always swim with a buddy. Select swimming sites that have lifeguards when possible.
  • Seizure disorder safety: If you or a family member has a seizure disorder, provide one-on-one supervision around water, including swimming pools. Consider taking showers rather than using a bath tub for bathing. Wear life jackets when boating.
  • Learn to swim: Formal swimming lessons can protect young children from drowning. However, even when children have had lessons, constant supervision and barriers – such as pool fencing to prevent unsupervised access – are still important.
  • Learn Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR): In the time it takes for paramedics to arrive, your CPR skills could save someone’s life.
  • Air-Filled or foam toys are not safety devices: Don’t use air-filled or foam toys such as "water wings," "noodles" or “inner tubes” instead of life jackets. These toys are not life jackets and are not designed to keep swimmers safe.
  • Avoid alcohol: Avoid drinking alcohol before or during swimming, boating or water skiing. Do not drink alcohol while supervising children.
  • Know the local weather conditions and forecast before swimming or boating: Strong winds and thunderstorms with lightning strikes are dangerous for swimmers.