By CHRIS AGEE
As summer months usher in hotter weather, visitors from across the region will flock to the Brazos River and other area bodies of water to cool off.
Before heading to the lake, river, or pool for a swim, though, experts urge all swimmers to remember several key safety tips.
Dr. John Jones, Palo Pinto General Hospital chief of staff and ER medical director, offered professional advice to swimmers of all ages.
“Never swim alone,” he said. “Always swim with someone else. That’s the best advice I could give.” Furthermore, he recommends swimmers inform others of where and when they will be taking a dip.
“You always want to have available rescue devices,” he said, “life preservers and things of that nature.”
Proper training is also a must, he said.
“Obviously, learning to be a good swimmer at a young age – swimming lessons – are very important,” he said. “Before you swim, make sure you can swim.”
While pools are often marked with water depths, staffed with a lifeguard, and stocked with safety equipment, Jones said swimming in other bodies of water presents unique risks.
“Know the area you’re swimming in,” he said. “If you’re swimming in the lake, it’s hard to see what the bottom looks like. It’s important not to jump off in water if you don’t know how deep it is.”
Though precautionary measures are intended to prevent drowning, Jones offered advice for individuals in such a position.
“As best you can, don’t panic,” he said. If possible, he stressed the importance of calling for help.
“Calmly tread water as best as you can ... attempting to float on your back,” he added.
American Red Cross offers safety tips in addition to those addressed by Jones.
The organization offers home pool safety, water safety, first aid, and CPR courses and encourages individuals to be prepared to respond to emergencies before swimming.
Stay hydrated and limit exposure to the sun, the site adds. Between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., always wear sunscreen with SPF of 15 or greater.
For more safety advice or information about the Red Cross safety courses, visit redcross.org.
BRA warns of potential river risk
In addition to basic safety concerns, swimmers along the Brazos River face the added potential risk of a rare but dangerous microorganism.
According to the Brazos River Authority, the primary amebic meningoencephalitis, or PAM, is an amoeba common in untreated fresh water and soil. Active in warm, slow-moving water, the PAM can cause an infection when forced into the nasal passages. Such instances typically occur when diving or water skiing.
When it reaches the brain and spinal cord, a PAM infection destroys brain tissue and usually kills the affected individual within a week.
Only 10 cases were reported in Texas between 2000 and 2010 and there have been no positive diagnoses in the state since 2011.
To reduce the possible threat, the BRA recommends using nose clips when jumping into water. Additionally, the agency discourages stirring up underwater sediment and warns individuals to take warning signs seriously.
Swimming pools and hot tubs, if properly maintained and cleaned, and salt water bodies are generally not at risk for PAM, according to the BRA. The microbe cannot be transferred from person to person through drinking water.