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Forensic Sci Med Pathol. 2014 Sep;10(3):363-70. doi: 10.1007/s12024-014-9569-0. Epub 2014 Jun 4.

Immersion-related deaths in infants and children: autopsy experience from a specialist center.

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Camelia Botnar Laboratories, Department of Histopathology, Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children NHS Trust, Great Ormond Street, London, WC1N 3JH, UK,



To investigate the demographics, circumstances and autopsy findings in infants and children dying following immersion.


A retrospective review of a pediatric autopsy database at a specialist center over a 16-year period (1995-2010) was undertaken to identify deaths between 7 days and 16 years of age in whom death occurred following immersion.


28 infants and children died following immersion during the study period. 82 % were aged <4 years, with peak age of death between 1 and 2 years. Immersion occurred at home in a bath or private pool in 70 % of cases. There was a lack of direct supervision in all but two cases where the information was recorded (91 %); one of these cases occurred in a public swimming lesson, and in the other the carer was incapacitated. Autopsy findings were non-specific. Facial or subconjunctival petechial hemorrhages were a feature of 18 % of cases. There was increased lung weight, or histological pulmonary edema/intra-alveolar hemorrhage in all but one case.


The data suggest that the majority of pediatric immersion-related deaths were potentially preventable with appropriate supervision. The findings strongly support the role of education regarding adequate carer supervision of infants and children while bathing, particularly in children with underlying conditions such as epilepsy. As private pools and "hot tubs" become more common in the UK and other jurisdictions, specific recommendations such as fencing pools will need to be included in advice to carers. So-called 'dry drowning" appears to be an uncommon mechanism of death in this age group.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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