Swimming, picnics, hiking—the activities that make summer fun also pose health hazards. You can keep yourself and your family safe by following some simple precautions.
Germs in Recreational Waters
Over the past decade, outbreaks of illnesses associated with swimming in pools, water parks, lakes, rivers and other recreational water areas have increased. Despite modern disinfection systems and environmental improvements, people still get illnesses that affect their skin, ears, eyes and respiratory systems. The most commonly reported recreational water illness is diarrhea, which can be caused by organisms such as Cryptosporidium, Giardia, Shigella and E. coli.
To avoid these illnesses and keep from spreading them, follow these steps:
- Don’t swim while you are ill with diarrhea and for several days after it stops.
- Don’t swallow pool water.
- Take young children for bathroom breaks frequently.
- Wash your hands after using the restroom and changing diapers.
- Take a shower before you swim.
- Change children’s diapers in a restroom instead of the pool area.
Bacteria flourish in warm, humid environments—especially when people create conditions that help them grow. That can happen on warm summer days when food isn’t refrigerated at picnics or on camping trips, or when it’s not cooked to the right temperature. In Massachusetts, where people often dig their own local steamers, boil lobsters and have clambakes and clam boils, food-borne illnesses can spoil the outings for many people.
These guidelines can help keep you safe from food-borne illnesses:
- Wash your hands frequently and carefully.
- Cook all meat and seafood 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” seafood such as mussels, clams and oysters.
Tick- and Mosquito-Borne Diseases
Ticks and mosquitoes can carry diseases such as tularemia, babesiosis, ehrlichiosis, Lyme disease and infection from the West Nile virus. To avoid these infections, take these precautions:
- Use an insect repellent with DEET or permethrin.
- Tuck your pants into your socks to keep ticks out.
- Wear light-colored clothing that lets you see any ticks crawling on you.
- Perform daily tick checks on yourself and your pets.
- Wear long sleeves and long pants to avoid mosquitoes.
- Get rid of any standing water on your property, or empty and scrub any containers weekly. Water in tires, buckets, planters, birdbaths and other areas create breeding grounds for mosquitoes.
- Safely remove ticks with tweezers. Pull gently, straight up out of the skin, until all parts of the tick are removed.
Poison Ivy, Oak and Sumac
Poison ivy, oak and sumac are the most common causes of allergic reactions in the United States. While sensitivity to the chemical in these plants declines as people age, the itchy rash can still make you miserable.
This chemical, called urushiol, is common to all of these plants. People can come into contact with it directly by touching or brushing the plant, or indirectly from tools, pets or clothing that is contaminated with urushiol. Some people react to airborne particles, usually from burning plants.
The rash usually appears within 12 to 48 hours after exposure to urushiol. It begins as redness and swelling, followed by blisters and severe itching. In a few days, the blisters become crusted and scaly and heal within about ten days. The rash can happen anywhere on the body, but it usually affects the hands, forearms and face.
If you know you’ve come into contact with one of these plants, wash the area thoroughly with soap and water. Also, wash any objects that may be contaminated. Cool showers and over-the-counter preparations like calamine lotion can relieve the itching in mild cases. With severe cases, corticosteroids may be needed.
The best plan is to avoid poison ivy, oak and sumac plants. Look up pictures so you can identify them, and remember the old saying about poison ivy, “leaves of three, beware of me.” You can also try a commercial product such as Ivy Block that can prevent urushiol from getting into your skin. Apply it at least 15 minutes before you get near the plant.
*The content on this website is for informational purposes only and is not medical advice. Please consult a physician regarding your specific medical condition, diagnosis and/or treatment.