Summer comes but once a year. From picnics and days at the pool to backyard barbeques and day-long hikes, many people spend the season outdoors. Danger, from water-related illnesses to heat stroke, often comes with the fun. Public safety officials say people can prevent accidents and illnesses by taking safety measures and staying informed.
"One of the core messages with public health is that we can’t be everywhere all the time," said Glen Barbour, public safety information officer for the Fairfax County Health Department. "It is really in the hands of the public to take precautionary measures and protect themselves."
Celebratory sparklers are popular during the summer, but they’re a source of danger. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reports that 60 percent of fireworks injuries occur around July 4. Hand, eye and face injuries are among the most common.
"The first thing that we recommend is viewing fireworks displays in a public place that has been permitted and checked for safety," said Dan Schmidt, spokesman for the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department. "It saves them money and provides a safe environment to view fireworks."
Other safety officials agree. Fireworks are banned in the City of Alexandria. "We have close to 100 percent compliance, so we don’t see many injuries," said Tony Washington, spokesman for the City of Alexandria Fire Department.
For those who decide to use consumer fireworks, there are a few safety considerations to keep in mind: "Fire them from a flat surface and make sure there are no combustible materials near the fireworks," said Schmidt. "Have bystanders at least 25 feet away, read the directions and don’t let children handle or light fireworks."
OTHER SUMMER HEALTH HAZARDS are equally preventable. From recreational water illnesses to sunburns, staying informed about potential hazards and strategies for keeping them at bay can lead to a more fun and relaxing summer for everyone.
"The best way to prevent recreational water illnesses is to keep germs, pee and poop out of the water," said Kurt Larrick, spokesman for the Arlington County Department of Human Service. "Check diapers frequently and take a shower with soap before going into the water."
Fairfax County issues the same message. "The main thing that we at the health department emphasize is gastrointestinal illness caused by feces in the water," said Barbour. "We encourage people, especially the parents of small children, to not go to a public pool when they have diarrhea."
Barbour warns of factors that might give the public a false sense of security. "We want parents to be mindful that not all not all germs are killed right away, even in chlorinated water, and that leak-proof diapers don’t always keep feces out of the water."
Other preventative measures include frequent hand washing, taking a shower before entering a public pool, discouraging children from drinking water that is used for swimming and giving young children bathroom breaks at least every 60 minutes.
IN ADDITION TO ILLNESSES, other water-related dangers spike during the summer. "They are a lot of accidents like drowning," said Barbour. "Teach their kids how to swim, watch young children very carefully when they are near water.
Swimming with a partner and wearing a life vest when boating are also important. "Should someone fall in the water and injure their head, the life vest will keep them floating," said Barbour.
Heat-induced ailments like sunburns, heat rashes, heat exhaustion and heat stroke are other hot-weather culprits. "The three most important things to do to prevent them are drink enough fluids, wear proper clothing and choose the best times to be outside," said Caroline Sutter, RN DNP-BC, assistant professor of nursing, George Mason University. "Avoid the extreme heat of midday."
Wearing sunscreen, staying hydrated and avoiding alcohol when in the heat are also good ideas. "Most of the research shows that you should drink water before going out into the heat, even if you don’t feel thirsty. Thirst is the last warning sign of dehydration," said Sutter. "After you come in, you can add back water with sports drinks that have electrolytes."
Know the warning signs that it is time to get out of the heat: "Heat cramps are the first thing that you’ll feel," said Sutter. "Your muscles will get tired and cramp easily because they aren’t getting enough blood flow."
Nausea, vomiting and headaches are also clues. "Your body is good about giving your warning signs," said Sutter. "If you listen to your body you can avoid some of these major complications."
The elderly and very young children are at greatest risk of heat illnesses.
"Children in sports camps or outdoor camps should wear sunscreen and have regular rest breaks in the shade," said Rosemarie Berman, RN, Ph.D., chair, B.S.N. program; assistant professor of nursing, Marymount University in Arlington. "A well-regulated camp will have regulated rest periods."
Barbour said, "Parents of infants and small children should be aware because a baby can’t tell you when they’re sick. Check on elderly neighbors who don’t have air conditioning."
Avoid leaving the elderly, young children and pets in small, enclosed spaces like cars. "They could die even after a short period of time like when you’re running to get gas," said Sutter.
Stay informed about potentially dangerous weather like heat waves. "We have cooling centers open on really hot days," said Barbour. "You can also go into an air conditioned public space like a library."
BITES FROM MOSQUITOES and ticks can also pose health threats. "People should be mindful that we do have West Nile virus and Lyme disease in our area," said Barbour. "When summer comes, people are outside and are exposed to insects that cause people to get sick."
More on Summer Safety
Fairfax County Emergency Information Blog
Arlington County Public Health Department
Alexandria Health Department
Fairfax County Health Department
Heavily foliaged spaces, like those with tall grass, are where such bugs hide. "If you’re in an area where the grass is high, on the fringes of a park or even your backyard, be aware," said Barbour.
When hiking or working outside, wear light-colored, loose fitting clothing, long sleeves and long pants. "Ticks are sneaky," said Barbour. "They will crawl up your leg without you knowing it."
Other precautionary measures include checking your body carefully for ticks after coming inside and eliminating standing water from around a home. "At least once a week, we encourage people to walk around their house and dump water from places like bird baths and your dog’s water bowl."
Health and safety officials say that most summer hazards are avoidable. "Summer safety pretty much all boils down to common sense and reducing your exposure to risks," said Larrick.