Avoid common injuries, diseases while hiking | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Avoid common injuries, diseases while hiking

Amanda Fehd

Sore feet, sore knees and tired-out legs: it’s a common story on backpacking trips.

Hikers are prone to injuries of the foot, ankle and knee, but some things can help prevent the aches and pains.

“One of the problems I see as we change seasons here (from skiing) is that each activity has its unique stresses on the knee and ankle,” said Dr. Terry Orr, a physician at the Tahoe Fracture Clinic. He recommends that hikers start out on easier hikes with easier grades and build into the season to avoid injury.

A pair of hiking boots that support the ankle can go a long way in preventing ankle sprains. For people with knee problems, steeper inclines are tougher. It’s best to stay on well-maintained trails, especially on the downhill stretch.

“If the footing is really loose, it can cause more twisting and stretching,” Dr. Orr said. Good tread on your shoes will also help keep you steady.

Then there’s people whose feet just hurt when they hike.

“If the person has a history of foot problems, then I would suggest getting custom orthotics made,” he said. Custom orthotics are prescription foot beds that support the foot and can help adjust bad walking habits. “They can make a big difference for someone who has had difficulty hiking.”

One other thing to watch out for is wet granite slabs near lakes or streams. Granite can be extremely slippery and a fall can result in serious injury. A hiker in the Sierra last summer dislocated a shoulder when he slipped on a granite slab and put his hands down to arrest the fall.

Disease risks on the trail

There are disease risks in the backcountry. Mosquitos, ticks, rodents, deer and humans are all potential carriers of a slew of diseases.

West Nile virus will be a tangible threat to the West this summer and mountains are huge breeding grounds for mosquitos, which are carriers for the disease.

“West Nile has already hit Southern California,” said Sue Hinneke, public affairs officer for El Dorado County environmental management department.

“It’s not in Northern California that we know of, but if it comes up here, there’s definitely that potential (to catch the disease).”

All mosquitos are potential vectors for the disease, Hinneke explained. The virus has traveled from the East Coast through birds, which are the reservoir host.

Backpackers should cover up and use insect repellent containing DEET to avoid exposure, she said. Desolation Wilderness at dawn or dusk hosts dense clouds of mosquitos, so avoid being out in those hours and avoid camping near lakes and ponds.

Tick-borne diseases are another threat to be aware of. Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever are present in California.

Backpackers should also be informed about diseases spread through mammals, including Hanta virus, giardia and the plague, which was discovered at Donner Lake two years ago. A good rule of thumb is not to drink any standing water from a lake, pond or puddle.

The threat of giardia in Sierra water is arguable, but it’s good to be well informed about this debilitating parasitic cyst. Many articles on the Internet have cited studies that allegedly show that giardia is more prevalent in Los Angeles and Bay Area tap water than any Sierra backcountry source. Others have questioned the scientific method of the studies.

While you may not catch giardia from drinking water, you could easily catch it from poor hygiene while sharing a camp with someone who is a carrier of the parasite.

The disease can be spread through any linked contact with fecal matter. A bar of soap on backpacking trips can help reduce the risk.

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