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Contrary to many people's assumption that the Dead Sea's high salt and mineral content makes it a very safe place to swim, it appears to be the second most dangerous swimming site in Israel, Magen David Adom figures show.

Since the beginning of the year, MDA ambulance crews have treated 117 people who drowned or almost drowned off the country's shores, 21 of them - almost a fifth (17 percent ) - in the Dead Sea, data released yesterday shows. This is much less than the 83 people pulled out of the water along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, but more than the 11 from Lake Kinneret and two from the Red Sea.

Of these 117 people, 23 actually drowned, compared to 31 in 2009 and 44 in 2008. But only one of those drowned in the Dead Sea, off Ein Bokek beach, near the hotel strip along the sea's southern shore.

In 2009, 45 people were rescued from the Dead Sea, twice as many as from the Kinneret (11 ) and the Red Sea (11 ) together. In 2008, 34 almost drowned in the Dead Sea, 2.6 times more than in the Kinneret and Red Sea together (13 ).

Some of these people entered the water from unsupervised beaches, MDA officials said.

"It is impossible to sink in the Dead Sea and drown in the ordinary way," said Yaniv Almog, head of the intensive care unit at Soroka Medical Center in Be'er Sheva. "Most people don't drown in it; they trip, fall and swallow the water.

Sodium balance

"The water's high sodium concentration disrupts the body's sodium balance, especially the calcium, magnesium and phosphorus levels," he continued. "At the same time, it causes a pulmonary disorder, reminiscent of pneumonia. It is treated with an aggressive fluid infusion and diuretics and, if necessary, dialysis. The pulmonary damage is treated with added oxygen and, if necessary, short-term artificial resuscitation."

An ultra-Orthodox man, 58, regained consciousness in Soroka on Sunday two weeks after being hospitalized in critical condition after almost drowning in the Dead Sea. The hospital said he suffered severe internal burns and chemical pneumonia caused by salt water entering his respiratory system. He was put on respiratory support and was treated with fluid infusions and medicines.

After he regained consciousness, a day before his daughter's wedding, the man was moved to Maayanei Hayeshua Medical Center in Bnei Brak.