By Michael Mulford
With summer in full swing, Americans across the country are racing to get outside and enjoy the warm weather. But amid all the fun of playing in the pool, swimming in the ocean, running around outdoors and firing up the grill, it's important to be aware of some health hazards that are especially common this time of year. Here are seven things to watch out for during the summer months so you and your loved ones can relax and enjoy the season.
Ticks and the diseases they spread
Not only are these little critters hard to spot, they are dangerous and can transmit different diseases. Ticks can be found in grassy, brushy, wooded areas, and for those who spend their days outside in the summer, ticks will likely be in close contact. These insects also like to latch onto animals, so be sure to check your pets after time outside.
The illness most commonly associated with ticks is Lyme disease. This is caused from the bite of a black-legged tick, which transmits bacteria into a person causing symptoms like fever, fatigue, headache and a skin rash. Prompt treatment with antibiotics is crucial, as leaving Lyme untreated can allow the disease to infect joints, the heart, and the nervous system.
Another type of tick, the lone star tick, has given several thousand people a red meat allergy. The tick's bite transmits the strange condition, which is actually a reaction to a specific carbohydrate found in cattle, pigs and certain other animals. It can even give some people a bad reaction to some dairy products. Symptoms of the allergy include hives, skin rash, stomach issues, headaches and trouble breathing. There is currently no treatment or cure other than avoiding red meat. While the tick can be found across the eastern U.S., it is most common in the South. With temperatures rising nationwide, ticks are increasingly spreading to new areas.Other tickborne diseases include Anaplasmosis, Babeiosis, Ehrlichiosis, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Powassan disease, STARI (Southern tick-associated rash illness) and Tularemia.
To stay safe from ticks, the CDC recommends avoiding wooded and brushy areas with high grass and using insect repellents that contain 20 to 30 percent DEET on exposed skin and clothing. Wearing clothing treated with permethrin has also proven effective at warding off ticks.
Taking a dip in the ocean is a popular way to cool off in the summer months, but beachgoers should keep in mind that certain sea pathogens can cause illness. One type, sea lice, is known to cause itchy skin and skin rashes. The "lice" are actually tiny jellyfish larvae, barely visible to the naked eye. They like to get under your bathing suit or T-shirt and sting you, so be sure to get your suit off as soon as possible and shower when you get home.
Hookworms, although not common, can also infect people and animals at the beach. The parasites come from animal waste, so be wary of walking barefoot or lying down in the sand.
Bacteria including MRSA, a form of staph that's resistant to treatment with antibiotics, can also be found in seawater and sand, making the beach a potentially perfect breeding ground for skin infections.
Make sure to thoroughly shower after a trip to the beach, and avoid swallowing seawater or getting any sand in your mouth.
Certainly one of the most common summer health hazards, sunburn isn't only a matter of a few days of painful red skin. In fact, sustaining just five sunburns in youth drastically increases your risk of skin cancer later in life.
Melanoma is the most dangerous type of skin cancer. It accounts for only 1 percent of all skin cancers but causes the majority of skin cancer deaths. It is expected that more than 91,000 people in the U.S. will be diagnosed with melanoma in 2018 and about 9,320 people will die from it. The average age of someone diagnosed with this type of cancer is 63, but an increasing number of younger people are being diagnosed, too. Its rates have been rising for the past 30 years, according to the American Cancer Society.
The sun's rays are strongest during the middle of the day, so proper clothing and applying sufficient sunscreen at least every three hours is vital. To treat a bad sunburn, things like drinking water to stay hydrated, taking over-the-counter pain relievers and using medical creams or ointments can help, but your best bet is to take precautions and avoid getting burned in the first place.
While it may sound like something out of a children's book, hogweed is nothing to take lightly. The wild plant can cause third-degree burns for those who touch it. The plant's sap contains chemicals that can cause the skin to become extremely sensitive to light, leading to pain, redness and blistering. It can even make someone go blind if the sap comes in contact with the eye.
Hogweed was recently discovered growing in Virginia and has also been spotted in Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland, Oregon, Washington, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. A member of the carrot family, the toxic plant can grow up to 14 feet tall.
While summertime is peak season for barbecues and cookouts, it's also a time when foodborne illnesses peak. The reason for this is twofold: bacteria multiply faster in warmer temperatures and preparing food outdoors can make proper food handling more difficult.
Each year, about 1 in 6 Americans -- or 48 million people -- get sick from foodborne illnesses. About 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die.
According to the CDC, the most common causes of foodborne illnesses are norovirus, Salmonella, and Campylobacter. Symptoms can include high fever, vomiting, dehydration, diarrhea, and blood in the stools. These illnesses are treatable and many times will clear up on their own, but can sometimes lead to complications and even death, especially in people with weaker immune systems.
To prevent food poisoning, be mindful of cooking meat thoroughly and avoid cross-contamination by cleaning food prep surfaces and utensils after they touch raw meat or poultry. Keep perishable foods in the refrigerator or a cooler with ice.
Drowning and dry drowning
Although watching your kids at the pool may seem like a no-brainer, it can only take moments for an accident to occur. Drowning is one of the most common causes of accidental death in children.
A less common condition known as "dry-drowning," also called secondary drowning, occurs when water gets into one's lungs, irritating the lining and causing fluid build-up. Unlike more typical drowning scenarios that take place in pools, lakes and at the beach, dry drowning can occur hours, even days, after a person inhales water. Young children are most at risk.
According to doctors, symptoms of dry drowning include trouble breathing, persistent coughing, sleepiness and fatigue, and vomiting. Getting treatment right away is necessary, as the condition can quickly turn fatal.
Not only do pesky mosquitoes cause itchy bites, they can also transmit a number of diseases.
West Nile Virus may cause a fever, headache, body aches, joint pains, vomiting, diarrhea, or rash, although only about 1 in 5 people infected ever show symptoms. More rarely, it can develop into a serious, sometimes even fatal illness.
Zika virus made headlines two summers ago because of the outbreak in Brazil that led to a high number of babies born with microcephaly, a birth defect that causes an abnormally small head. Many adults infected with the virus do not experience any symptoms, but some develop a fever, rash, joint pain or red eyes three to 12 days after a bite. The CDC reports there have been just over two dozen cases of Zika in the U.S. so far this year, all brought in by travelers.
Other mosquito-borne diseases include dengue, chikungunya, and malaria, though they are not common in the United States and are often found in less developed parts of the world.
Mosquitoes like to breed in standing water, so it's important to empty containers that collect water in or around your home, including buckets, vases, pool covers, trash cans, and discarded tires. Mosquito repellent can help you avoid being bitten, and so can wearing long sleeves and long pants while outside. Screens on doors and windows can help keep mosquitoes out of a home, and using air conditioning helps too, as mosquitoes do not like cooler temperatures.