With the drowning of two young men this weekend, officials say 2013 is shaping up to be one of the worst years in recent memory for accidental drownings.
A 21-year-old international student drowned while swimming in Thetis Lake in Victoria on Saturday.
That same day — which marked the start of drowning prevention week — a 19-year-old died after getting caught in the current after falling off his raft on the Similkameen River.
Wendy Schultenkamper, education director for the Lifesaving Society BC and Yukon, says there have already been 43 drowning deaths in 2013, compared with 25 at this time last year.
Still, she says the numbers have decreased about 20 to 30 per cent since the 1990s.
"Back in those days we used to have in excess of 90 to 100 drownings," Schultenkamper said. "Now we're down anywhere from 60 to 80 drownings per year, and ideally we'd like to see even less than that, as most drownings are preventable."
Schultenkamper says it's important to get familiar with any new water area before going in. Lifejackets are also essential, especially for young children or activities such as rafting or boating, she added.
Meanwhile, the search has been called off for missing camper Raymond Salmen, believed to have drowned in Harrison Lake in early June.
An Idaho couple equipped with high-tech search technology has been unable to locate the body. Gene and Sandy Ralston travelled to B.C. at the request of the family.
But the area of the lake where searchers believe Salmen's body is resting is very rocky, making it impossible for the Ralstons' side-scan sonar system to locate it, said Neil Brewer with Kent-Harrison Search and Rescue.
The water is also murky, so their remote operated vehicle wouldn't be able to see the body, he added.
The search was called off early Sunday afternoon.
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What's Swimmer's Ear Anyway?
This condition can refer to inflammation or infection of either the outer ear or the outer ear canal -- most often, it is simply an infection caused by swimming in contaminated water. Many bacteria, such as pseudomonas, can lead to an ear infection and are prevalent in water, according to the National Institutes of Health website. But swimmer's ear can also be caused by irritation to the layer of skin lining your ear canal -- most often caused by putting fingers, cotton swabs or something else too far into the ear canal. Ear pain, discharge from the ear (particularly if it is a strange color, thick like pus or foul smelling) or an itching sensation in the ear canal are all symptoms of swimmer's ear. Some people may even experience temporary hearing loss. As with any bacterial infection, oral antibiotics are the most common form of treatment. If the swimmer's ear is an inflammation or irritation rather than an infection, corticosteroids are the most common treatment, according to the NIH. Aside from steering clear of polluted water, you can avoid swimmer's ear by using earplugs, thoroughly drying your ears after a swim or even applying an alcohol-vinegar solution to the ears after a swim to prevent bacterial growth.
Will I Really Cramp After Eating?
This common wisdom was dismissed by many in the medical and safety communities. Waiting 30 minutes to an hour after eating to hop in the pool? Folklore. In fact, a 2005 New York <em>Times</em> article called it "<a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2005/06/28/health/28real.html" target="_hplink">yet another old wives' tale</a> that should be laid to rest." The theory behind the precaution is that blood flow to the stomach increases after eating, which draws it away from muscles, causing immobilizing cramps that can cause drowning. But according to a 2011 study in the journal <em>Medicine, Science and the Law</em>, those who swim on a full stomach really <em>do</em> <a href="http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/231674.php" target="_hplink">have a higher drowning risk</a>. Researcher's from Tokyo Women's Medical University looked at data from 536 autopsies between April 2000 and December 2007. They split the autopsies into two categories: those in which solid food was visible in the stomach (a sign that a person had eaten recently) and those without any solid food. Among the 34 cases in which the deceased showed signs of having eaten recently, 79 percent had died of accidental drowning. What's more, it went both ways: nearly 80 percent of those who drowned accidentally had visible food residues in the stomach. These researchers theorized that the blood flow to the stomach following eating, in combination with the swim, caused light-headedness that made some people lose consciousness.
Is It Really Bad To Pee In The Pool?
Yes. While holding it until you find a toilet seems like a pretty basic courtesy, surveys consistently show that more of us are relieving ourselves in the pool. In fact, reported CNN, 17 percent of adults admitted to peeing in the pool -- <a href="http://articles.cnn.com/2009-05-22/health/pools.urinate.hygiene_1_pool-water-michele-hlavsa-swimmers?_s=PM:HEALTH" target="_hplink">including one rather famous swimmer</a>, Michael Phelps. The problem with peeing in the pool is that the nitrogen in urine combines with the sanitizing chlorine to form a different chemical, chloramine. That does two things, according to Michele Hlavsa, epidemiologist and chief of Healthy Swimming and Waterborne Disease Prevention at the CDC. First, it ties up the chlorine, so it isn't doing its job of killing common pathogens like E. coli, salmonella and others. Secondly, it is a major irritant -- if you've experienced respiratory irritation, coughing or stinging red eyes, it could be caused by chloramines. Sweat and personal care products also contain nitrogen, and so rinsing off in a shower before getting into the pool is a good way to prevent creating chloramines. And how can you tell if urine's present? You don't need a special forensics team. According to Hlavsa, if the pool has a strong chemical smell, that's chloramine -- not chlorine. "A healthy pool doesn't smell," she says. But while we're on the subject of bathroom behavior, one in five adults admits to swimming while suffering from diarrhea. That's problematic because one common bacterium that causes diarrhea -- chryptospiridium -- is very chlorine tolerant, surviving up to ten days in a <em>well</em> chlorinated pool. "We overestimate what chlorine can kill, but it takes time for chlorine to disinfect -- there's a window of opportunity with each pathogen."
Why Are My Eyes Irritated?
If you're in a pool, you may be having a bout of "chemical conjunctivitis" -- a type of irritation caused by the chemicals used in many pools to keep things sanitized. You may be grateful for the dose of chlorine in the local watering hole (see previous slide), but it can also lead to irritation if administered with a heavy hand. On the flip side, <em>under</em> chlorinating can lead to eye irritation and infection, too, thanks to water-loving bacteria, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Follow their <a href="http://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/swimming/pools/disinfection-team-chlorine-ph.html" target="_hplink">chlorinating guidelines</a> to ensure an optimal pH level, which helps the chlorine work properly to sanitize the water, for your eyes -- and the rest of you.
Can I Get Burned If I'm Underwater?
You absolutely can. "Sun rays penetrate the water surface, so it's really important to wear a long-lasting sunblock," says Gilchrist. As far as sun exposure goes, the real concern is the reflective surface of the water, which amplifies the sun's rays and can cause a burn for swimmers and boaters alike. For that reason, it's important to be especially vigilant about applying sunscreen and even wearing sunglasses.