Idaho, Alaska, Hawaii lead nation for drownings

A lack of fences around backyard pools and lapses in adult supervision are some of the reasons Idaho ranks fourth in the nation in drowning deaths per capita, a medical doctor says.

“Almost 80 percent of children who drown, drown in the presence of adult supervision,” Kenny Bramwell, medical director of the Pediatric Emergency Department at St. Luke’s Regional Medical Center, told The Idaho Statesman. “Unless you’re sitting there really watching your kids, you’re not watching them closely enough.”

In southwestern Idaho, there have been at least 16 drownings or near-drownings since May 1, the most recent a 1-year-old found floating in a swimming pool at his grandmother’s house. He was in critical condition at St. Luke’s Regional Medical Center at press time.

St. Luke’s reported 10 drownings or near-drownings involving children up to 12 years old since May 1, and Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center reported five cases.

An emergency physician at Saint Alphonsus, Dr. Hansel Ashby, said he has treated five toddlers for drowning or near-drowning. He said three of the toddlers were pulled from swimming pools, one from a bathtub, and one from an irrigation ditch.

“Within the last two years it seems the numbers of drowning or near-drowning cases have increased significantly,” Ashby said. “It’s typically one’s own pool, not you go to a friend’s house or a public pool. And it’s usually toddlers.”

Bramwell said that in the cases he has been involved with, the parents thought they were watching their children and they thought they would be able to hear if a problem developed while they were reading or talking on the phone.

But he said drowning toddlers make little noise, only gurgling noises, and quickly sink to the bottom.

“It seems to be a matter of seconds, not minutes,” Bramwell said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Idaho trailed only Alaska, Hawaii and Louisiana in the number of drowning deaths per capita between 1989 and 1998, the most recent years statistics were available.

Bramwell said that while other states, such as Arizona, California and Oregon, have more swimming pools, they also have laws that require the pools be fenced on all sides. That lowers the drowning rates.

“Many states are insisting that if you build a new pool, that it have a four-sided fence,” he said. “We don’t have any law like that on the books and, sadly, that may be part of the reason we’ve had so many toddlers drowning in swimming pools.”

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Six states with the most drownings (number of drownings per 100,000 people)

1. Alaska 6.45

2. Hawaii 3.13

3. Louisiana 2.93

4. Idaho 2.92

5. Mississippi 2.81

6. Florida 2.53

Source: CDC