It’s summer! Time to relax in hammocks, play in pools, go camping, take strolls, and generally enjoy the dog days. Here are some basic summer safety tips to help you stay healthy and happy all season long!
Summer is a wonderful time to cook and eat outside! However, both of these things lead to the highest peak in foodborne illness cases in the year. Am I going to tell you to not grill or picnic? No – go ahead! I always think food tastes better eaten outside. Just follow common safety precautions: wash your hands thoroughly in potable water before and after handling food items; thoroughly wash utensils, plates and boards that contacted raw meat before using them for cooked food; store raw meat separately and securely in a cold location; cook your food thoroughly; and eat or refrigerate food within two hours of preparation or removal from refrigeration (food starts becoming unsafe to eat after about two hours. If it’s at or above 90 degrees outside, food is safe to eat for only one hour).
Bites & Stings
Mosquitoes are a nuisance, certainly, but they can also be dangerous. If you are going outside, particularly near standing water or after dark, it is wise to use an insect repellant. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends repellants containing DEET and Picaridin as active ingredients. The CDC notes that oil of lemon eucalyptus might also be an effective repellant. As with any topical solution, use repellants with caution, and as the directions instruct.
Ticks are no fun and can also carry some nasty diseases. However, they too can be waylaid by repellants. Other ways to help prevent bites in tick-infested areas are to tie back long hair, wear hats, wear light-colored clothing (so you can spot ticks easier), and wear long sleeves and pants. Ticks prefer dark, creased areas of the body, so be sure to check your hairline, armpits, creases left by clothing, etc. when you return from camping or hiking. If you get bitten, use tweezers to pull the tick out by its head, and save it in a plastic bag or container (you can kill it in rubbing alcohol first) – if you come down with symptoms (particularly the bulls-eye rash of Lyme disease), it will help your doctor to have the tick.
Other bites and stings can be dangerous too. Be familiar with local threats if you’re traveling – critters as various as snakes, fish, spiders, and jellyfish can leave you with unpleasantly enduring reminders of your encounters with them. And as we all know, even minor bites and stings can itch or hurt. However much you want to scratch, though, avoid the temptation – scratching or rubbing will distribute the toxins or irritants throughout your skin and cause greater discomfort. Scratching can also lead to open wounds and infections. You can alleviate the discomfort with topical anti-itching creams and cold packs or rinses. If you get a bee sting, scrape the stinger out with a fingernail or plastic card (pulling it out could inject more venom), and then use the same methods to reduce discomfort. If you develop a severe reaction -difficulty breathing, widespread hives, etc.- go to a hospital immediately.
Make sure you drink water! The warmer days and increased activity levels of summer lead to greater perspiration, which means you need to drink more water to stay properly hydrated. Dehydration, aside from causing fatigue and general malaise, can be dangerous. If you’re exercising or perspiring significantly, be sure to drink some juice or sports drink in addition to water – too much water and too much sweating can throw your sodium levels out of balance, which can be deadly. (Don’t use this as an excuse to eat salty foods! You don’t need that much sodium.) And that eight glasses a day thing – that’s a myth. Each person has different hydration needs. A good (if maybe gross) way to gauge your hydration level (aside from your level of thirst) is the color of your urine – fairly clear and odorless is properly hydrated, yellow means drink more, thick or brownish means drink a lot more, and if you can’t urinate, you need to go to the hospital.
As anyone who has had contact with poison ivy can attest, plants are not always benign. Poison ivy, oak and sumac all produce urushiol oil, which induces allergic contact dermatitis – that nasty, itchy rash. Urushiol is active for years, so don’t touch dead poison ivy or the vines, immediately wash anything that has had contact with poison ivy (dogs, clothes, yard tools, etc.), and NEVER burn poison ivy – the urushiol will go airborne and you could get the rashes throughout your respiratory tract. There are barrier creams you can use to prevent urushiol oil from soaking into your skin, and ongoing homeopathic treatment (pills with miniscule amounts of urushiol) have shown some proficiency at preventing and reducing poison ivy dermatitis.
However, poison ivy relatives aren’t the only herbaceous hazards of summer. Each summer, children and pets (and some adults) ingest poisonous and sometimes lethal vegetative matter. This isn’t just deadly nightshade – plants as common as irises (roots and leaves), potatoes (leaves, vines, sprouts, green bits), and English ivy (leaves, berries) can cause problems such as severe stomach upset, comas, and death. Watch children and pets as they play outside or around plants. (Unlike many people seem to think, pets don’t necessarily have a natural instinct to avoid poisonous plants. There are many cases of pets dying from eating a plant that would have grown in their natural habitat.)
Camping & Hiking
There are books upon books of information on how to camp and hike safely, so I’ll just give you the basic basics. Know where you’ll be – have maps, a compass, and maybe a GPS on hand, and make sure people in town know where you’re going and how long you’ll be there. Know your limits – don’t engage in activities that will put your body under too much stress. Come prepared for heat, cold, severe weather, injury, and whatever else the world might throw your way – bring adequate potable water, blankets, shelter, clothing, first aid supplies and knowledge, etc. Be informed – know what weather, terrain, and wildlife to expect. If there’s wildlife, store your food properly and safely (never in your tent, and in bear territory, not even in your car). Stay cool and hydrated when it’s hot, stay warm and dry when it’s cold, and have fun!
Sun & Heat Exposure
I know you don’t want to hear this – but as the CDC says, tanned skin is damaged skin. Anytime you’re outside during summer (particularly between 10am and 5pm, but even in the evenings and when it’s cloudy), you’re at risk for skin damage and increasing your risk of skin cancer. Prevention’s pretty easy, though – cover up with hats and clothing, stay out of the sun, or use natural formulations of sunscreen lotion. Even if you’re not in the sun, you can still feel its effects – extreme heat can lead to heat rashes, cramps, exhaustion, and stroke. However, proper hydration, pacing, and rest will help prevent most heat-related illnesses.