Enjoy the Water and Stay Safe!

LuAnn Burgmuller, RN
Director, Ravalli County Public Health


ENJOY THE WATER AND STAY SAFE!
The beautiful Bitterroot River flowing through our valley offers many fun recreational activities, but is also one of the most dangerous rivers in Montana. With warmer weather, all of the rivers are rising in Montana and with that comes the increased risk for accidents and drowning.

Montana averages 20 deaths per year due to drowning. More drownings occur in natural bodies of water than in bathtubs and swimming pools. In the U.S. 10 people die each day from drowning, 2 of those being children under the age of 14. In Ravalli County we have had 12 drownings in the past 10 years and countless incidents nearly resulting in tragedy.

Contrary to popular belief, drowning can happen quickly and silently. In the short amount of time it takes to go grab a towel, about 10 seconds, a child can become submerged. A child can lose consciousness during a 2-minute phone call. If left for even five minutes, a submerged child can sustain permanent brain damage or die. Inadequate supervision was determined to be a factor in more than 60% of drowning deaths of children less than 16 years of age.

Remember our Montana waters are cold! Putting on a life jacket after falling into cold water is almost impossible - SO WEAR IT! Temps for the Bitterroot River in recent years have ranged from 44 to 69 degrees during the months of June and July. In cold water, conserving body heat is essential for survival and for increasing your chances of being rescued. Cold water dangerously accelerates the onset and progression of hypothermia since body heat can be lost 25 times faster in cold water than in cold air. When you first fall into cold water you gasp (torso reflex). Next, your skin begins to cool, and your body constricts surface blood vessels to conserve heat for your vital organs. Blood pressure and heart rate increase. Muscles tense and shiver; this produces more body heat, but results in a loss of dexterity and motor control. As your body's core temperature drops further, blood pressure, pulse, and respiration rates all decrease.

Ravalli County Public Health would like to offer some tips in staying safe on the water this summer:
  • Learn to swim
  • Use life jackets (PFDs)
  • Learn CPR
  • Always supervise young children around water
  • Use the buddy system and notify others where you are going
  • Avoid alcohol while boating and swimming
  • Know the water and weather conditions
  • Scout the river and be aware of new hazards that can appear overnight. Fallen trees and debris pose a great entrapment risk to floaters
  • Be aware of irrigation dams which are present on many Montana rivers. These dams can create a dangerous backwash and entrap a person. Make it a practice to get out and go around the dam rather than floating over it.
In addition to injuries, illnesses can spread in the water we share. In 2015, more than 100 people in Montana became ill with waterborne illness like Cryptosporidium or Giardia. More than half of them reported swimming in the days before they became ill. In order to prevent spreading illness, people experiencing a diarrheal illness should stay out of pools or spas, all swimmers should shower before using pools and spas, and swimmers should never swallow the water. Every hour, take children out of the water for bathroom breaks and check diapers to keep germs away from the pool.

Our goals in public health include decreasing preventable illness, deaths, and accidents in our county. So get out and enjoy the water, but do it safely!

The community health column is brought to you this month by a partnership between Marcus Daly Memorial Hospital and Ravalli County Public Health. For questions or comments, please contact LuAnn Burgmuller, RN, Director Ravalli County Public Health, 205 Bedford St, Hamilton MT (next to the museum), Open 8-5 M-F (closed noon to 1) Phone 406-375- 6672.
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