Health News
Health News
June 1, 2018
Your Summer Health & Safety Guide

Summer is here! For a lot of us, it’s the best time of the year – no school, family vacations, longer days and lots of sunshine.  Privia Medical Group North Texas physicians want you and your family to enjoy the summer, so check out our guide to staying safe and healthy all summer long.

Protect Against West Nile & Zika

Outdoor pests, particularly mosquitos, are an inevitable part of summer in Texas.  Usually, mosquitos are simply annoying – when they bite us, we experience an itching and stinging sensation for a while.  However, mosquitos can also carry viruses, including West Nile and Zika.  Because these viruses can seriously affect human health – and there is not yet a cure or vaccine for either – it’s important to guard against mosquito bites. 

Most people who are infected with West Nile virus never know it, as the virus often produces no symptoms.  In about 20 percent of cases, West Nile virus can cause body aches, headaches, diarrhea, vomiting and rash.  While these symptoms do typically subside, fatigue can continue for a few months. 

In less than one percent of West Nile cases, serious neurological illness, such as meningitis or encephalitis, can result.  Permanent brain damage is possible in these cases and around 10 percent of people who get this form of West Nile will die as a result.  People over the age of 60 are most at risk. 

As is the case with West Nile virus, many people who are infected with Zika will experience no symptoms at all.  When Zika does cause symptoms, they are relatively mild: fever, rash, joint pain, muscle pain, conjunctivitis (“pink eye”) and headache are typical.  These symptoms can last for up to one week.

Zika virus poses the greatest danger to women who are pregnant or may become pregnant – the virus has been determined to cause serious birth defects, so expectant mothers must take special care to protect themselves from Zika. 

Fortunately, most areas of the United States, including North Texas, have never experienced a Zika outbreak.  The Brownsville area in South Texas, as well as the Miami-Dade area of Florida experienced some Zika cases in 2017, but the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has since lifted the travel advisories for those areas.  If you are planning to travel to another country this summer, check the CDC for updated Zika travel alerts, especially if pregnant.  For more information on Zika and how it is transmitted, see our 2017 article on the virus. 

To protect your family from mosquitos and the illnesses they can carry, do not allow standing water near your house.  Mosquitos love to breed in stagnant water, so be sure to eliminate any empty pots and containers from your yard that can collect water and fill in any low spots that do not drain well. 

When outdoors, protect yourself from mosquito bites by using an insect repellent with DEET, an ingredient that has proven effective at repelling the types of mosquitos known to carry West Nile and Zika virus.  “You should apply insect repellent to any exposed skin, such as your arms and legs,” says Dr. Errol Bryce, a doctor of internal medicine.   “In addition, it’s a good idea to spray some into the palm of your hand and then rub it into your face for maximum protection.” 

Some insect repellents also provide protection against ticks, which can carry Lyme disease and other illnesses.  Protection from ticks, in addition to mosquitos, is important if your family’s summer plans include camping or hiking in the woods.  The CDC recommends utilizing the Environmental Protection Agency’s online tool to identify the insect repellents that best suit your needs.    

Don’t Overheat

Exceptionally hot summer weather is a fact of life in Texas.  During the summer months, temperatures routinely soar into triple-digit territory.  Everyone needs to be intentional about drinking plenty of water and staying cool in the summer to guard against dehydration, heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

Heat exhaustion occurs when a person loses too much water and salt from their bodies, leading to symptoms such as fatigue, weakness, nausea, heavy sweating and shallow breathing.  If you experience symptoms such as these, get to a cool area (preferably inside) and drink plenty of water or other non-carbonated, non-alcoholic fluids.  Applying a cool cloth or taking a cool bath can also aid recovery from heat exhaustion.

A medical emergency, heat stroke occurs when the body gets extremely overheated and is unable to regulate its internal temperature.  A person suffering from heat stroke can quickly reach a temperature of up to 106 degrees Fahrenheit.  Symptoms of heat stroke include hallucinations, chills and dry, hot skin.  If you think someone may be suffering from heat stroke, call 911 immediately and get the person to a cool area and soak them in cool water. 

“It’s really important to not allow yourself to get overheated or dehydrated,” says Dr. Charles Carlton, a primary care and internal medicine physician.  “If you’re spending time outdoors, try to stay in the shade and drink plenty of water.  If you’re doing yard work, it’s best to get it out of the way early in the day, when temperatures are not as warm.  Wear loose-fitting, light-colored clothes, which help to reflect the sun’s rays, as opposed to darker colors that absorb the sunlight and heat you up faster.”

“Backyard BBQs are a summertime staple for many of us,” says Dr. Norman Davenport, an internal medicine and primary care physician.  “Just take it easy on the beer at these gatherings, as any type of alcohol combined with hot temperatures contributes to dehydration.”   

Stop the Sunburn

The most common type of cancer in the United States is skin cancer.  The leading cause of cancers of the skin is excessive exposure to the sun’s harmful rays over a period of years.

The sun’s ultraviolet rays can cause sunburn almost immediately, causing skin to redden and become painful and itchy.  There are two types of UV rays – UVA and UVB.  UVA rays penetrate the skin and are responsible for premature aging signs, such as wrinkles and spots.  UVB rays primarily affect the surface of the skin, causing sunburn.  Anyone who spends time in the sun is susceptible to skin cancer, but that’s especially true of fair-skinned people. 

One of the most important keys to combatting sunburn and skin cancer is using a good sunscreen.  Sunscreens come in lotions and sprays and can be found in any drug store or grocery store.  All sunscreens have an SPF number, which stands for Sun Protection Factor.  The higher the SPF, the more protection the sunscreen provides, but an SPF of 40 is not twice as protective as an SPF of 20.

“If you’re spending time outdoors, sunscreen is a must,” says Dr. Craig Dearden, an internal medicine physician.  “Always use a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 20 and apply to every area of exposed skin on your body, including your face.  Remember that you can – and should – apply sunscreen on top of insect repellent; the two can be safely used together.”

“Sunscreen should be re-applied every two hours and if you are swimming, every time you get out of the water,” adds Dr. Curtis Evans, an internal medicine and primary care physician.  “Also, always check your sunscreen’s expiration date – if it’s expired, it won’t provide the protection you need, so toss it and replace it.  

It’s not just your skin that needs protection from the sun, says Dr. Jason Ledbetter, an internal medicine and primary care physician.  “Protect your eyes from the sun by wearing sunglasses that provide protection from both UVA and UVB rays.”

Safety First in the Water

Getting in the water can be the perfect thing to do on a hot day.  Take a few precautions to make sure you, and especially your kids, stay safe. 

Stay Safe at the Pool…

According to the CDC, there were more than 3,500 drowning deaths per year from 2005-2014.  That’s about 10 per day.  Even more tragically, about 20 percent of those who died by drowning were age 14 or younger. 

Teaching children to be strong swimmers is crucial to keeping them safe in the water.  However, even if your child is adept at swimming, parents cannot let their guard down around the water. 

“When young children are in the pool, it is imperative that there be an adult watching them constantly,” says Dr. Dorris Morrissette, an internal medicine and primary care physician.  “In the time it takes to answer a phone call or read a text message, a child can go underwater and drown.  Stay close by the pool and keep your eyes on children at all times.”

For people who have pools at home, installing a safety fence around the pool is highly recommended to prevent young children from getting in the water unsupervised. 

…And at the Lake

Just like at the pool, children need to be watched closely at all times in or near any body of water, be it a lake, river or ocean. 

Many people take advantage of the numerous, beautiful lakes in North Texas by getting out on a boat during the summer.  Just remember, alcohol and water do not mix.  According to Texas Parks and Wildlife, alcohol plays a role in one-half of all boating accidents.  Furthermore, the same rules that apply to driving also apply to boating in Texas: if you have a blood alcohol level of 0.08 or higher, you can be charged with boating while intoxicated.  

Lifejackets are also a must in a boat.  Texas law requires that every boat has one life jacket for each person on board and that all children under the age of 13 wear a life jacket at all times (in boats less than 26 feet long). 

Avoid Injuries – and the ER

Here’s a good tip for staying out of the emergency room this summer: leave the fireworks to the professionals.  “There are a lot of great fireworks shows across North Texas on and around the Fourth of July – take the family to one of them and ignore the impulse to buy fireworks yourself,” says Dr. James Parker, an internal medicine and primary care physician.  “Handling fireworks is a great way to lose part of your hand or burn down your house.”

Summertime often means a fair amount of time working in the yard.  In addition to protecting your skin from the sun and mosquitos, take a few additional safety precautions in the yard to avoid a preventable injury.

“With any power equipment, carefully read and follow all of the manufacturer’s safety guidelines.  When mowing your lawn, wear close-toed shoes and long pants to prevent projectiles from causing lacerations on your legs and feet,” advises Dr. Robert Reddix, an orthopedic surgeon.  “And if you are using a string trimmer or edger, wear eye protection, such as sunglasses or goggles, to protect your eyes from flying objects.  With any loud power equipment, ear plugs are also a good idea.”

Have a Great Summer

Whether you’re traveling or spending the summer at home, by taking a few precautions to protect yourself and your family, you’ll better be able to keep everyone safe and healthy all summer long.  By reducing your risk of preventable illness and injury, you’ll be able to focus on having a good time with your family and making some new memories. 

This article contains information sourced from: 

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Texas Parks and Wildlife

The National Institutes of Health