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A scoping review of female drowning: an underexplored issue in five high-income countries

  • Roberts, Kym1, 2
  • Thom, Ogilvie1, 2
  • Devine, Susan2
  • Leggat, Peter A.2, 3
  • Peden, Amy E.2, 4
  • Franklin, Richard C.2
  • 1 Sunshine Coast University Hospital, Sunshine Coast Hospital and Health Service, Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia , Sunshine Coast (Australia)
  • 2 James Cook University, Townsville, Queensland, Australia , Townsville (Australia)
  • 3 National University of Ireland Galway, Galway, Ireland , Galway (Ireland)
  • 4 University of New South Wales, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia , Sydney (Australia)
Published Article
BMC Public Health
Springer (Biomed Central Ltd.)
Publication Date
Jun 05, 2021
DOI: 10.1186/s12889-021-10920-8
Springer Nature


BackgroundDrowning is a significant public health issue, with females accounting for one third of global drowning deaths. The rate of female drowning has not decreased within high-income countries and presentations to hospital have increased. This scoping review aimed to explore adult female unintentional drowning, including risk factors, clinical treatment and outcomes of females hospitalised for drowning.MethodsA systematic search of the literature following the PRISMA-ScR framework was undertaken. The databases OVID MEDLINE, Embase, CINAHL, OVID Emcare, Web of Science, Informit and Scopus were accessed. Study locations of focus were Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Studies from January 2003 to April 2019 were included. The quality of evidence of included studies was assessed using GRADE guidelines.ResultsThe final search results included 14 studies from Australia (n = 4), Canada (n = 1), New Zealand (n = 1), United States (n = 6), United Kingdom (n = 1), and one study reporting data from both Australia and United States. Nine studies reported risk factors for female drowning including age, with the proportion of female drowning incidence increasing with age. Although females are now engaging in risk-taking behaviours associated with drowning that are similar to males, such as consuming alcohol and swimming in unsafe locations, their exposure to risky situations and ways they assess risk, differ. Females are more likely to drown from accidental entry into water, such as in a vehicle during a flood or fall into water. This review found no evidence on the clinical treatment provided to females in hospital after a drowning incident, and only a small number of studies reported the clinical outcomes of females, with inconsistent results (some studies reported better and some no difference in clinical outcomes among females).ConclusionAdult females are a group vulnerable to drowning, that have lacked attention. There was no single study found which focused solely on female drowning. There is a need for further research to explore female risk factors, the clinical treatment and outcomes of females hospitalised for drowning. This will not only save the lives of females, but also contribute to an overall reduction in drowning.

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