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Topics > Healthy Outlook > Staying Safe and Healthy in the Summer

Staying Safe and Healthy in the Summer

Published by Contra Costa Times
Posted on Wed, Jul. 20, 2005

By Francie Wise, RN, MPH

TO MOST OF US in Contra Costa County, summer means outdoor fun: water sports, hiking, camping, picnics and related activities.

Pleasant weather, however, does not mean there aren't health hazards during summer. Picnic foods are a common source of illness; swimming and wading carry drowning and other risks; and open space areas contain disease-carrying pests.

The keys to staying safe and healthy in the summer are different from those for cooler seasons, but generally quite simple.

Bacteria like E. coli and salmonella can grow in foods. Cook meat and other animal products thoroughly and refrigerate or ice them right away.

Bacteria in meat, cold cuts, milk or uncooked eggs can grow in less than an hour in warm weather. Salads made with mayonnaise or eggs are a common cause of illness. Wash hands with soap after preparing raw meat for cooking.

Infants with dirty diapers can cause serious infections in pools and spas. If you do take them into a pool or spa, put on a fresh diaper (or a "swimdiaper"), and check and change it frequently.

Don't drink river or lake water even if it appears clean, unless you boil, filter or treat it first. Even pristine lakes and rivers may contain the parasite Giardia from animal feces.

Clean water alone doesn't assure a safe swim, though. Drowning is the leading cause of death at home for Contra Costa children under age 14. Nationwide, more than 400 children drown each year, almost as many as die in car accidents. Careful supervision is the key, since many children who drown can swim.

Liquid-containing 5-gallon buckets also present a hazard because curious young children fall into them headfirst and can't right themselves. Empty buckets, cover spas and never leave young children unattended, even for the time it takes to answer the phone or go the bathroom.

Contra Costa County requires that all swimming pools be fenced with self-closing, self-latching gates. Other important precautions to prevent drownings include pool area gates that open away from the pool, safety covers and pool alarms. And always wear lifejackets when in watercraft.

Of course, there are also health hazards on land and in the air this season, respectively, in the form of ticks and mosquitoes. In brush, bushes and trees, ticks that carry Lyme disease are waiting for people or animals to come by and give them a new home.

The two best ways to avoid ticks are to wear fairly tight-fitting clothing when hiking, and inspect your hair and clothing (or have a companion do it) periodically and at the end of the hike.

Mosquitoes used to be merely a mild irritant for most people, but in recent years certain breeds started carrying West Nile Virus (WNV), a dangerous and sometimes deadly infectious disease.

The best way to protect yourself from WNV is to minimize mosquito exposure, especially at dawn and dusk.

Wear clothing that covers your arms and legs, and apply mosquito repellent with DEET or picaridin on all exposed skin every two to three hours when outdoors. And don't forget sunscreen on exposed skin.

Don't let a preventable accident or illness spoil your summer fun. Enjoy your summer, but take simple precautions and follow safe practices that maximize your family's health.

Francie Wise is director of communicable disease programs and public health nursing for Contra Costa Health Services.

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