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Enjoy the Great Outdoors — Safely

The return of warmer temperatures brings thoughts of freedom, relaxation, exploration, and being closer to nature. Whether you're relaxing in the backyard, turning up your garden, hitting the pool, or exploring the great outdoors, here are some ways to help keep you and your family healthy this summer.

Beware of Bugs

Warmer temperatures aren't just attractive to people. Mosquitoes, ticks, fleas, and other insects thrive in warmer weather, and they can transmit West Nile virus, Lyme disease, and other illnesses. Using an appropriate insect repellent and applying it properly allows you to continue to play and work outdoors with a reduced risk of mosquito and tick bites. Prime mosquito-biting hours are usually dusk to dawn. Pay special attention to protection during these hours, or avoid being outdoors.

Young ticks are so small that they can be difficult to see, but both young and adult ticks hungrily look to animals and sometimes people to bite. To protect yourself from tick bites, avoid tick-infested areas (especially places with leaf-litter and high grasses), wear light-colored clothing so you can see ticks crawling on you, and use repellent containing DEET. You can also treat clothing with permethrin, which protects through several washings. Always follow the directions on repellent packaging!

After you have been outside, check your body, your clothing, your children, and your pets for ticks. Consult your healthcare provider if you become ill in the one to three weeks following a bite. It could be any number of illnesses.

Pesticides, vegetation-free play areas, and landscaping techniques for tick-free zones can also help limit your exposure to ticks and other insects.

Healthy Pets, Healthy People

While you're outside enjoying the weather, remember to protect your pets, too. Keeping your pets healthy helps to keep you and your family healthy. Children can get roundworm and hookworm from soil contaminated by pet feces (stool), so make sure that puppies and kittens are seen by a veterinarian and de-wormed. Protect family pets from ticks and fleas by keeping them on a flea and tick control program, and talk to your veterinarian for advice on the appropriate mosquito repellent for use on your pet.

Dining Al Fresco

Nothing says summer like the smoky flavor of foods cooked out on the grill. When you're grilling, use a meat thermometer to ensure that you cook meat and poultry thoroughly. Ground beef should be cooked to an internal temperature of 160°F. Also, put cooked meat on a clean platter, rather than back on the one that held the raw meat, to avoid cross-contamination.

Whether you're cooking out in the backyard or at a picnic, always keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot. When you're finished eating, refrigerate leftovers promptly.

Around the Yard

Now's the time to seal up, trap up, and clean up to prevent rodent infestation. As you're clearing out clutter, fill any gaps or holes inside and outside your home. Eliminate or seal rodent food sources such as pet food, bird feeders, and garbage cans. Elevate hay, woodpiles, and garbage cans at least one foot off the ground, and trim grass and shrubbery within 100 feet of your home.

In the yard, remove any items that may collect standing water, such as buckets, old tires, and toys. Mosquitoes can breed in them in just days. You can reduce the number of ticks around your home by removing leaf litter and brush — and woodpiles around your house and at the edge of your yard. By clearing trees and brush in your yard, you can reduce the likelihood that deer, rodents, and ticks will live there. Replace or repair torn window screens to keep bugs out of the house.

Gardening is a great outdoor activity for people of all ages. Stay safe and healthy as you grab your tools and head outside. Wear gloves, use safety gear when handling equipment and chemicals, protect yourself from the sun, and use insect repellent. Also watch out for extreme heat and know your limitations.

A sandbox is a fun place for you and young children to play, but know that a cat sees that sandbox as a litter box. So, keep the sandbox covered to protect young children from toxoplasmosis, a parasite that people can get from contaminated cat feces (stool).

Pollens and air pollutants can be triggers for allergic reactions and asthma. Some experiences include nasal and sinus allergies and hives. Asthma can cause recurrent symptoms, such as wheezing, chest tightness, shortness of breath and coughing. Stay healthy by properly taking any prescription or over-the-counter allergy medicine and having (and following) an asthma action plan. Wearing a protective nose and mouth mask, or even sunglasses or protective eyewear, while doing yard work could help to avoid the triggers that cause allergy and asthma complications.

Fun in the Sun

Protect yourself and your family from recreational water illnesses by doing your part to keep germs out of the pool. Do not swim when you have diarrhea, don't swallow pool water, take a shower before swimming, and wash your hands after using the toilet or changing diapers.

Play it safe in the sun. Avoid being outdoors during midday if the sun is intense, use sunscreen with at least SPF 15, cover up with clothing, wear a brimmed hat, and wear sunglasses that block UVA and UVB rays. Be aware of the signs of heat stress.

In the Great Outdoors

When you're out on the trail, whether hiking, camping, or hunting, protect yourself from mosquitoes and other bugs by using insect repellent. Wear long sleeves, long pants, and long socks when practical. Always check your clothes and body for ticks. If you find any ticks, carefully remove them with tweezers. The ticks that transmit Lyme disease are most active in May, June, and July, so be especially careful during those months. However, you need to look for ticks in all months of the year to protect yourself against other tick-borne diseases.

Just because a stream’s water looks clear, it doesn't mean it's safe to drink. Giardia and Cryptosporidium are two parasites that you can't see, but they can make you very sick, so follow healthy swimming tips. Always treat or filter water to make it safe to drink.

Bats are fun to watch as they flutter around at dusk. In many camp situations, the mere presence or sighting of bats is common and normal. Sometimes, bats may be infected with rabies and may pose a risk for exposure to humans. Remind children to never touch a bat. If you are bitten by a bat, wash the affected area thoroughly and get medical advice immediately. Whenever possible, the bat should be captured and sent to a laboratory for rabies testing.

Enjoy the great outdoors. Have a safe and healthy summer!

Above content provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in partnership with Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor

Posted June 2013

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Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
330 Brookline Avenue, Boston, MA 02215
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