Objective: To characterize children aged under 5 years who present to paediatricians following near-drowning and the circumstances surrounding the event, identify high-risk groups and document short-term outcome.
Methodology: Monthly notifications to the Australian Paediatric Surveillance Unit (an active, national surveillance system) between 1994 and 1996. Collection of additional case information from reporting doctors by postal questionnaire.
Results: All 169 reported cases of near-drowning were admitted to hospital (mean (SD) stay 6 (17) days) and 15% required intensive care (mean (SD) stay 19 (32) days). The mean (SD) age for near drowning was 26 (13) months and 22% children were aged between 12 and 18 months. Males predominated (1.6:1) and 69 (41%) of episodes occurred in summer (December - February). The majority (82%) of near-drownings occurred in the child's home, usually in a swimming pool or bath. Children who nearly drowned at home were significantly younger than those who nearly drowned in natural waterways or public pools. Neurological damage at discharge following near-drowning was reported in 7%.
Conclusions: Children reported in this national case series represent the severe end of the spectrum of those who nearly drown, as indicated by their presentation to a paediatrician, universal hospitalization and adverse neurological outcome. The home is the site of most near-drownings and males and toddlers were at particular risk. Unimpeded access to pools and lack of supervision were identified as potentially modifiable factors for prevention. The study suggests the need for additional community education regarding the risks of near-drowning and for further research on long-term neuro-developmental outcomes following near-drowning.