Monday, June 16, 2014

Keep your cool! Take a swim in a lake

In Florida, where temperatures linger in the mid-90s June through August, submerging one's body in fresh water is a quick and pleasant way to dial back the heat. From May through October, I'm constantly jumping in and out of a lake to cool off.

Come on in!  The water's great!

Although I'm comfortable swimming in fresh water, others aren't. Fear of everything from amoebas to alligators prevents many of my fellow Floridians from taking the plunge.

"You swim in a lake with alligators?" people ask. "Are you crazy?"

I'm not. But I am aware. Being aware and knowledgeable about potential dangers helps overcome anxieties. So does evaluating risks.

Consider alligators.

In the 65 years since 1948 when records where first kept, only 22 people in Florida have been killed by alligators. Although each loss of life is tragic, alligator-related deaths are extremely rare, happening on average once every three years.

Though alligators are large, scary-looking predators, people are still safer in water than they are on top of it. 

Boat-related accidents accounted for 818 deaths in Florida in the past 11 years. Although that's an average of 74 lives lost each year, people are much more likely to jump aboard a watercraft than they are to jump into water.

What about amoebas? The Naegleria fowleri amoeba is a single-celled organism that can cause primal amebic meningocephalitis in people, a disease of the central nervous system that often is fatal.

The amoeba lives in damp soil and the warm water of lakes, rivers, ponds and poorly maintained swimming pools. It isn't spread by swallowing water or from one person to another. It enters the body through the nose when people are diving, dunking or doing other water activities resulting in a rush of warm water through the nasal passage.

Even though such activities are commonplace, especially among children, very few people are infected. According to the Centers for Disease Control, which considers that form of infection rare, only 132 people in the entire country came down with it in 51 years, with approximately 66 of those cases in Florida and Texas. The CDC expects up to eight cases per year, fewer than half of those in Florida.

Lightning has killed 472 Floridians in the last 54 years, an average of 8.7 people per year. But being struck by lightning is nowhere near as dangerous as driving or riding in a car. 

To stay safe, get out of the water when storm clouds arrive

Florida averages more than 2,000 car-related deaths annually, which means people are far more likely to be killed on the way to the lake than they are in the water.

I understand why the thought of invisible amoebas entering a body can be frightening, just as I can appreciate how scary an alligator can be to potential swimmers. But if people would take the time to evaluate risks and educate themselves about the dangers, they'd realize how unnecessary it is to avoid swimming in Florida's beautiful lakes.

If you are scared but want to try taking a freshwater swim, I suggest going to a sandy town beach with a lifeguard. Never taunt or feed alligators because that's what makes them act aggressively and lose their natural fear of people. Swim during daytime hours when alligators are less active. Stay out of weedy water. Be alert and aware of your surroundings.

State and federal health authorities suggest wearing nose clips when swimming underwater in freshwater lakes. They also advise people not to dive or swim along the bottom of lakes or ponds, and the Florida Department of Health says to stay out altogether when the water temperature exceeds 82 degrees. Chances are 2.5 million to 1 of contracting the disease, according to health authorities.

If you take those precautions and act responsibly, you'll be rewarded with one of Florida's treasures — enjoying a swim in one of the state's wonderful freshwater lakes. We live in Lake County, after all. Go out this summer and have some wet, refreshing fun.

My husband and grandson enjoy a fun and refreshing swim in the lake

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