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NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - In-ground pools are often seen as the biggest drowning danger for children, but a U.S. study warned that portable pools, including inflatable and wading pools, are just as dangerous -- especially for younger children.
In fact, between 2001 and 2009, a child drowned in a portable backyard pool once every five days during the summer months, according to the study in Pediatrics.
"Parents need to be aware that these pools can present the same risks for drowning, especially for young children, as in-ground pools," which are typically thought of as a bigger danger, said study author Gary Smith.
Smith, who is head of the center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, and his team looked at data compiled by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission for cases of drowning or near-drowning in these types of pool that were reported to the commission.
Over the nine years from 2001 to 2009, they found records of 209 deaths from submersion and 35 non-fatal cases in children aged 11 and younger. The number of drowning cases increased between 2001 and 2005, but has leveled off in recent years.
Almost all of those happened in children under 5 years old, and most were in the child's own yard in the summer months.
"That's a child every five days that is drowning in a backyard portable pool during the summer months," Smith said.
While this doesn't suggest that families shouldn't use inflatable or wading pools, he added that parents "need to put some thought into the safety issues when they go to the store, pick one of these up, and put them up in their backyard."
The authors found cases of drowning where children opened the doors of their houses and climbed into the pool using a ladder or other nearby object, as well as examples of children playing in the pool when parents were nearby but were distracted by chores or a phone call.
Parents "can't say they're supervising (if they're) having a couple drinks at a pool and chatting with their friends or talking on a cell phone," said Linda Quan, a drowning expert at Seattle Children's Hospital, who was not involved in the study.
"Supervision has to be constant... and for a very young child, even within arm's reach."
She recommended that parents take steps such as having children wear a life jacket near the pool, making sure the children have no access to the pool when the parents aren't around, and perhaps even empty the pool, especially smaller pools.
Fences and restricting access to ladders into the pool were also good steps. But covering inflatable pools is only of limited protection -- and the researchers said that in at least one case, two children in the study drowned together when they got tangled in a pool cover.
Smith said the most important message is that parents need to take the risks of these pools very seriously, even if the pool is small and only has a few feet of water.
"If you are on the playground equipment and you fall, you generally get another chance," he said.
"The problem with submersion underwater is it's very quick... and once a kid's heart and breathing stops it's very difficult to revive them. You don't get a second chance." SOURCE: bit.ly/jsoh2P
Reporting by Genevra Pittman; editing by Elaine Lies