• Summertime Hazards

    Summertime means swimming, picnics, parties and barbeques. It also means potential health hazards related to these warm weather activities. Using common sense and taking certain precautions can prevent many of these hazards.


    Every year, millions of Americans visit "recreational water" sites. Despite the use of modern disinfection systems in pools, water parks and hot tubs, and environmental improvements in our lakes, rivers and oceans, there has been an increase over the past decade in outbreaks of illnesses associated with swimming. Recreational water illnesses can cause a wide variety of symptoms, including skin, ear, respiratory, eye and wound infections. The most commonly reported illness is diarrhea. Diarrheal illnesses can be caused by organisms such as Cryptosporidium, Giardia, Shigella and E. coli O157:H7.

    People should refrain from swimming while ill with diarrhea and for several days after the diarrhea has ceased. In addition, swimmers should not swallow pool water, and young children should be taken frequently for bathroom breaks. Furthermore, all swimmers should practice good hygiene, which includes washing hands after using the restroom or a diaper changing area, taking showers before swimming, and changing diapers in a restroom instead of in the pool area.

    Food-borne Illnesses

    Food-borne illnesses are known to increase during summer months when temperatures are hotter. Bacteria also need moisture to flourish, and summer weather is often hot and humid. In addition, there are "people" causes for the increase of food borne illness in the summer, when it is common to cook outside at picnics and barbeques and on camping trips. The safety controls that a kitchen provides, such as thermostat-controlled cooking, refrigeration and washing facilities, are usually not available.

    In Massachusetts, the start of summer is also when people begin preparing and eating more seafood, digging up local steamers, boiling lobsters and preparing clambakes and clam boils. Commonsense guidelines regarding food purchasing, handling and preparation should be followed and include: 

    • Practice meticulous hand-washing.
    • Cook all ground beef thoroughly.
    • Wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly.
    • Drink only pasteurized milk.
    • Keep perishable foods and leftovers cool.
    • Buy seafood from reputable, licensed dealers.
    • Purchase only live "shell on" products such as muscles, clams, and oysters.


    Tick- and Mosquito-borne Diseases

    Summertime is when people spend more time outdoors, so it's important to remember how to prevent tick and mosquito bites. Some of the more common tick- and mosquito-borne diseases are Lyme disease, tularemia, babesiosis, ehrlichiosis and West Nile virus. Protecting yourself from tick and mosquito bites includes taking the following precautions:  

    • Avoid exposure.
    • Use chemical repellent with DEET or permethrin.
    • Wear light-colored, protective clothing to allow you to see any ticks crawling on you.
    • Perform daily tick checks on not only yourself, but also any pets, as well.
    • Safely remove ticks by gently pulling them straight up out of the skin using tweezers, until all parts of the tick are removed.
    • Avoid standing water, where mosquitoes can breed.


    Poison Ivy and Its Cousins

    Poison ivy, oak and sumac are the most common causes of allergic reactions in the United States. Sensitivity tends to decline with age. The cause of the rash is uroshiol (derived from a Japanese word for lacquer), a chemical in the sap of the poison ivy, oak, and sumac plants.

    Poison ivy grows almost everywhere in the U.S., except Hawaii, Alaska and some desert areas of Nevada. Each plant leaf has three distinct leaflets.

    Transmission occurs from direct contact with the plant oil, indirect contact with clothing, tools or pets contaminated with uroshiol, or from airborne particles (usually from burning plants). A reaction, in the form of a rash, usually appears within 12 to 48 hours. The rash can affect any part of the body, but most commonly affects the hands, forearms and face. Blisters and severe itching follow redness and swelling. Within a few days the blisters become crusted and scaly, and they heal within about 10 days.

    If exposed, skin and contaminated objects should be washed thoroughly with soap and water. Taking cool showers and applying over-the-counter preparations like calamine lotion can relieve the itching in mild cases. In severe cases, corticosteroids may be indicated.

    There are effective commercial products (e.g., Ivy Block) that prevent urushiol from getting into the skin. The cream is applied at least 15 minutes before possible exposure. The old saying, "leaves of three, beware of me," is a good rule of thumb for preventing exposure to poison ivy.

    Practicing the cautious behaviors discussed above will help reduce your risk of getting ill and allow you and your family to enjoy the summer!

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