How to have a safe and healthy summer
The recent bout of hot weather is a pointed reminder that summer is almost here. Long hours of daylight and warm temperatures make summer a wonderful time to get outside and lose some weight while enjoying the great outdoors of Northern California.
But all that outdoor fun makes summer the peak season for bites, stings and other health hazards associated with open-air activities. Bee and wasp stings, bites from venomous snakes and spiders, and diseases carried by mosquitoes and ticks are just a few of the everyday risks that come with outdoor summertime recreation.
Fortunately, it’s possible to reduce your risk nearly to zero with some common-sense precautions. An ounce of prevention before you dive into nature this summer can save you a trip to the doctor and many pounds of misery later on.
Here are some of the common outdoor hazards to think about in the coming months, along with some tips on prevention:
— Bee and wasp stings: A painful nuisance for everyone, these stings can be deadly to about 2 million people in the United States who get severe allergic reactions when stung. This summer, you can avoid bee and wasp stings when eating outdoors by keeping foods covered and putting refuse in tightly sealed containers. If bees or wasps fly near, avoid any rapid movement, as that can provoke an attack. People with a known hypersensitivity to stings never should venture into remote areas alone and should carry an emergency kit with a syringe of adrenaline.
— Snake bites: Poisonous snakes are a much bigger health problem in other parts of the world, but our local rattlesnakes can pack a venomous punch, especially for children. Avoid bites by avoiding places where snakes may live, including tall grass, brush and rocky areas. If you must cross an area of high grass, poke a long stick in front of your path to scare away snakes. If possible, hike with loose, long pants and thick, high boots.
— Spider bites: Of about 3,000 species of spiders in the United States, only a handful are dangerous to humans. Locally, the only poisonous spider is the timid black widow, whose bite sometimes can be painful but rarely is fatal. You can avoid black widow bites by wearing gloves and long sleeves when working around woodpiles or other dark, undisturbed areas. Kids should learn never to tease spiders or poke bare fingers into cracks and crevices.
— Mosquito bites: Local mosquitoes can transmit the newly introduced West Nile virus, among other infections, and other exotic diseases spread by mosquitoes may be coming our way soon. Simple measures that can help you avoid these diseases include applying insect repellents with DEET to exposed skin when you go outside, especially during the peak biting hours in the evening and early morning. You also should drain any standing water by your home and install well-fitting screens.
— Tick bites: Lyme disease, although less common here than in the Northeast, is a threat carried by certain ticks. Before you enter a tick area, apply DEET-containing repellents to skin and wear long pants, long sleeves and long socks to keep ticks from latching on to you. Before you go back inside, remove any ticks from your clothes and inspect your skin carefully. Ticks removed within 24 hours of a bite rarely transmit disease.
Don’t let any of these outdoor hazards spoil your summer fun. And when it gets hot, remember to drink plenty of fluids, avoid heavy exertion and find an air-conditioned place to cool off if temperatures are extreme.
– Dr. Jason Eberhart-Phillips is the El Dorado County health officer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.