Article Text

other Versions

Drowning fatalities in childhood: the role of pre-existing medical conditions


Objectives This study is an analysis of the contribution of pre-existing medical conditions to unintentional fatal child (0–14 years) drowning and a of critique prevention stratagems, with an exploration of issues of equity in recreation.

Design This study is a total population, cross-sectional audit of all demographic, forensic and on-site situational details surrounding unintentional fatal drowning of children 0–14 years in Australia for the period of 1 July 2002 to 30 June 2012. Data were sourced from the National (Australia) Coronial Information System. Age-specific disease patterns in the general population were obtained from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

Results Four hundred and sixty-eight children drowned during the study period. Fifty-three (11.3%) had a pre-existing medical condition, of whom 19 suffered from epilepsy, 13 from autism and 5 with non-specific intellectual disabilities. Epilepsy is a risk factor in childhood drowning deaths, with a prevalence of 4.1% of drowning fatalities, compared with 0.7%–1.7% among the general 0–14 years population (relative risk: 2.4–5.8). Epilepsy was deemed to be contributory in 16 of 19 cases (84.2% of epilepsy cases) with a median age of 8 years. Asthma and intellectual disabilities were under-represented in the drowning cohort.

Conclusion Except for epilepsy, this research has indicated that the risks of drowning while undertaking aquatic activities are not increased in children with pre-existing medical conditions. Children with pre-existing medical conditions can enjoy aquatic activities when appropriately supervised.

  • drowning
  • children
  • epilepsy
  • autism
  • injury prevention
  • water safety
  • cardio-pulmonary resuscitation
  • supervision

Statistics from

Request Permissions

If you wish to reuse any or all of this article please use the link below which will take you to the Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service. You will be able to get a quick price and instant permission to reuse the content in many different ways.

Linked Articles