A+ A-

Drowning: a very real risk


PROBLEM

Most of us are drawn to water. It sparkles, things float in it and it is fun to splash around in, especially on a hot summer's day. Many people do not realise, however, that a person can drown in as little as four millilitres of water per kilogram of body weight. In South Africa drowning is one of the top five causes of unnatural death among children under 15 years of age and for every child that dies from drowning, five are left with permanent brain damage as a result of the prolonged lack of oxygen which occurs during a near drowning. It takes only four minutes without oxygen for irreversible brain damage to occur. With the summer months fast approaching it is imperative to transform this serious public health issue from one that is often neglected, to one that is addressed by national, regional and global programmes.

RESEARCH

To add to the overall understanding of the problem and to identify possible patterns or trends in drowning deaths, Prof Gert Saayman, Head of the Department of Forensic Medicine at the University of Pretoria (UP), along with Dr Lorraine du Toit-Prinsloo and Mr Neil Morris, both also from the Department, conducted a ten-year review of the institutional records at the Pretoria Medico-Legal Laboratory (PMLL). Their study involved the retrospective review of a total of 346 drowning cases from January 2002 to December 2011, and included the records of cases admitted as probable/possible drowning deaths, as well as all cases that presented as (deceased) bodies retrieved from water, cases where resuscitation had been applied/attempted at the site of immersion and cases where a person who suffered immersion had been admitted to hospital but did not survive. The results were published in the Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine.

RESULTS

The team found that, overall, children accounted for more than half (152 – 55%) of the cases examined. This number comprised 41 (15%) infants (children younger than one year of age), 52 (19%) toddlers (aged 1–2 years), 49 (18%) young children (aged 2–13 years) and 10 (3%) adolescents (aged 13–18 years). Adults (above 18 years) accounted for 126 (45%) of the cases.

The team also correlated the place of drowning with the age groups of victims and found that the majority of children drowned in swimming pools. Seven infant drownings were in buckets. The adult drownings occurred mostly in swimming pools, rivers and dams. Eleven adults drowned in bath tubs, of whom six were known to be epileptics, two had underlying cardiac pathology and in one case prescription medication may have played a predisposing or contributory role. Post mortem blood alcohol analysis was undertaken in 113 cases and alcohol was detected in 48 (42%) of these samples – with 40 cases (35%) having blood alcohol concentrations in excess of 0,05 g per 100 ml.

According to the UP team that undertook this study, many drowning deaths may be preventable by introducing greater public awareness of the risks involved and instituting relatively simple, protective measures such as encouraging people to always keep a watchful eye on young children around water and limiting access to swimming pools through fences and pool nets.

Privacy Policy

The University is firmly committed to protecting the privacy of users of the website. No personal information about users of this website will be disclosed to a third party without the prior consent thereto by the user. (Personal information shall at all times be dealt with in accordance with the provisions of the Protection of Personal Information Act, 2013 (Act 4 of 2013).)

The University reserves the right to automatically collect information on users' usage of the website (for example, via cookies) in order to improve users' browsing and interaction with the University and for non-personal statistical purposes.

Changes to this privacy policy

The University reserves the right to change, amend, or update this privacy policy periodically.

Modifications to the website

The University reserves the right to modify, change, amend or discontinue the website (or any part thereof) temporarily or permanently, without prior notice.

Links

The University may provide links to other websites or resources. This does not imply the University's endorsement of such sites. The University does not have any control over these websites and will, therefore, not be liable for any damages whatsoever arising from the utilisation of these websites by users.

The University does not prohibit third-party sites to link to publicly visible content on this website. However, it is expressly prohibited for any third party to frame any page on this website in any way whatsoever without the prior written approval of the University.

University of Pretoria proprietary rights

The copyright and other intellectual property rights (which include the University’s brand and logo), which are owned by or licensed to the University, existing in and attaching to this website, are the property of the University. These include but are not limited to text, content, design, layout, graphics, organisation, digital conversion and other information related to the website.

Users are granted a non-exclusive, non-transferable, revocable licence to:

  • access and use this website strictly in accordance with these terms;
  • use this website solely for personal, non-commercial purposes; and
  • download or print out or distribute content from the website, or any part thereof, solely for personal, non-commercial purposes, provided that all copyright and other intellectual property notices therein are unchanged.

Any reproduction of the content of this website, or a portion thereof, must include the following copyright notice: ©University of Pretoria. Users who wish to use the content from this website for commercial purposes may only do so with prior written permission from the University.

Disclaimer

This website is for information purposes only. No representations or warranties are given by the University of Pretoria (hereafter referred to as the University) regarding the accuracy of the information this website contains, any material this website provides for or any part of this website. Any reliance by the user on any information this website contains, any material this website provides for or any part of this website, is at the user’s own risk and the University shall not be liable in any way whatsoever in respect of the user or any other person, directly or indirectly, arising from the utilisation of the information this website contains, any material this website provides for or any part of this website.

The user hereby agrees that in the event of any dispute arising from the utilisation of this website in any manner, form or substance whatsoever, the relevant South African law will apply and the appropriate courts of South Africa will have jurisdiction.

Terms & Conditions

By accessing this website, the user hereby agrees to the following:

The use of this website is at the user’s sole risk. This website is provided on an "as is" and "as available" basis. The University gives no warranty that (i) the information posted on this website will meet the user’s requirements; (ii) the information posted on this website will be uninterrupted, timely, secure, virus free or error free; and (iii) the information posted on this website will be accurate or reliable.

Any material downloaded from or otherwise obtained through this website is utilised at the user’s own risk, and the user will, therefore, be liable for any and all damages of any nature whatsoever arising from such utilisation of the website.

Limitation of liability

The user expressly understands and agrees that the University shall not be liable for any damages (subject to the provisions of Chapter 2 of the Consumer Protection Act, 2008 (Act 68 of 2008) (even if the University has been advised of the possibility of such damages) resulting from: (i) the use or the inability to use the website; (ii) the cost of procurement of substitute goods and services resulting from any data, information or services obtained or messages received or transactions entered into through the website; (iii) unauthorised access to or alteration of the user’s transmissions or data; (iv) statements or conduct of any third party on the website; or (v) any other matter relating to the website.