Summer is around the corner, and we’re already springing outdoors for swimming, boating, biking, hiking, camping and playground romping.
Outdoor activities carry safety and injury risks, but a few precautions can keep your adventures under the sun and stars from turning into a season of dramas and traumas.
Here are six ways to stay safe:
1. Minimize the risk of mosquito-borne viruses
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Last year, 2,038 cases of West Nile virus infections in people were reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
While most people who become infected do not experience any symptoms, the most serious symptoms of the virus include fever, encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) and meningitis (inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord), according to the CDC. Further, no medications can treat West Nile, and no vaccine can prevent it.
Last year, 5,102 cases of symptomatic Zika virus disease were also reported to the CDC. Of these cases, 4,830 were in travelers who were returning from infected areas. Another 224 cases — 218 in Florida and six in Texas — are presumed to have been acquired through local mosquito-borne transmission.
To keep mosquitoes away, install or repair screens on windows and doors. Also, since mosquitoes breed in standing water, you should regularly empty any water that accumulates in flowerpots, gutters, buckets, pool covers, pet water dishes, discarded tires and birdbaths.
For more Zika-specific precautions, check out:
- “Before You Travel: What to Know About Protecting Yourself From Zika Virus“
- “The 5 Best Repellents for Zika Virus Mosquitoes“
2. Keep Lyme disease at bay
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Blacklegged ticks (also called deer ticks) can spread Lyme disease, according to the CDC. Symptoms typically include fever, headache, fatigue and a skin rash called “erythema migrans.” If left untreated, an infection can spread to joints, the heart and the nervous system.
More than 28,000 confirmed cases of Lyme disease were reported to the CDC in 2015, the latest year for which data is available. About 95 percent of those cases occurred in just 14 states, mostly in the Northeast and Midwest.
To avoid ticks, the CDC says you should avoid wooded and bushy areas with high grass and leaf litter, and wear insect repellant containing at least 20 percent DEET, picaridin or IR3535 (also known as “ethyl butylacetylaminopropionate”), among other preventative measures.
3. Protect yourself from the sun
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Slather on the sunblock. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends one with all of the following:
- A sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30.
- Broad spectrum protection, meaning it protects against both UVA and UVB radiation from the sun).
- Water resistance.
To learn more, see “3 Simple Steps to Protecting Your Skin This Summer.”
4. Remain hydrated
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Heat and humidity increase your risk of dehydration. The nonprofit Mayo Clinic explains:
… when the air is humid, sweat can’t evaporate and cool you as quickly as it normally does, and this can lead to an increased body temperature and the need for more fluids.
Mild to moderate dehydration can usually be reversed by drinking more fluids. For people outdoors in hot or humid weather, the Mayo Clinic recommends cool water, but also notes that sports drinks containing electrolytes and a carbohydrate solution might help.
Severe dehydration requires immediate medical treatment, however. The Mayo Clinic says you should contact a doctor if you or someone you’re with:
- Has had diarrhea for 24 hours or more.
- Is irritable or disoriented and much sleepier or less active than usual.
- Can’t keep down fluids.
- Has bloody or black stool.
5. Stay safe on the playground
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Every year, U.S. emergency departments treat more than 200,000 children ages 14 and younger for playground-related injuries, the CDC says. More than 20,000 of them are treated for a traumatic brain injury such as a concussion.
Ways to decrease a child’s chances of injury on a playground include:
- Being cautious about monkey bars and climbing equipment. On public playgrounds, more injuries occur on them than on any other equipment, according to the CDC.
- Choosing well maintained playgrounds, which the CDC says pose fewer risks from rusty or broken equipment, for example.
- Choosing play areas that have shock-absorbing surfaces such as wood chips or sand in case of falls.
- Checking that guardrails are in good condition.
6. Follow water safety rules
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In 2015, the latest year for which statistics are available, there were 4,158 boating accidents that involved 626 deaths and 2,613 injuries, the U.S. Coast Guard says. The top cause of death was drowning, and 85 percent of people who drown were not wearing life jackets.
The Coast Guard recommends, and many states require, wearing life jackets:
- For water skiing and other towed activities (use a life jacket marked for water skiing).
- While operating personal watercraft (PWC) (use a life jacket marked for water skiing or PWC use).
- During white water boating activities.
- While sailboarding.
Actively supervise children around water as well, even if lifeguards are present. Before going on vacation, take advantage of crash-course swimming lessons to improve your or children’s swimming skills, if needed. About 10 children die in accidental drownings every day, the CDC says.
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