Staying Safe This Summer
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Staying Safe This Summer

Tips and precautions for avoiding warm-weather hazards.

The start of summer means pools and backyard grilling. It also means an increased risk of accidents and injuries. Local safety officials are offering safety tips during June, which is National Safety Month.

With warm weather come health threats posed by ticks and mosquitoes. In addition to the Zika virus, which is not currently a local threat, mosquitoes can carry the West Nile Virus, while ticks can spread Lyme disease.

Recommended defenses against these pests include using insect repellant to protect against mosquito bites and eliminating potential mosquito breeding sites like pools of standing water or heavily foliaged spaces such as tall grass, where bugs often hide.

“We … have to be prepared and be ready in the event that we get local spread of [the Zika virus],” said Mary Anderson, a spokeswoman for Montgomery County. “The information on preventing bites and ridding your property of mosquitoes is good whether we have Zika or not.”

Local county health departments, including Montgomery and Fairfax, have established websites with current information on the Zika virus. Anderson also recommends a Zika virus webpage, created by the Centers for Disease Control, which includes a map with updated information on areas where Zika is spreading: http://www.cdc.gov/zika/index.html

“We’re taking the Zika virus seriously and preparing as though as though it could be a potential threat.”

— Kurt Larrick, spokesman, Arlington County Department of Human Services

“We’re taking the Zika virus seriously and preparing as though as though it could be a potential threat,” said Kurt Larrick, spokesman for the Arlington County Department of Human Services.

In addition to insect bites, time spent outside in hot weather can lead to heat-induced illnesses like sunburns, heat rashes, heat exhaustion and heat stroke, and the elderly and very young children are at greatest risk. Health officials say that the best lines of defense include limiting sun exposure, especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., the period considered the peak intensity hours. Wearing a hat and sunglasses that provide 97 -100 percent protection against both UVA and UVB rays, and applying sunscreen even on cloudy days and reapplying it every two hours or after swimming or sweating are also advised.

“You want to dress lightly and intake a lot of fluid, but avoid alcohol and sugary, sweet drinks when you’re in the heat,” said Captain Troy Gibbs, a spokeswoman for the Alexandria Fire Department’s Community Services Unit. “Staying hydrated by drinking a lot of water is your best bet.”

Health officials recommend checking on elderly neighbors who don’t have air conditioning and avoiding leaving pets, small children and older adults in small, enclosed spaces like cars, where conditions can turn deadly even after a short period of time in extreme heat.

Local county facilities, including libraries and community centers, are air conditioned and open to the public. Know the warning signs that it’s time to get out of the heat, says Gibbs.

“If they stop sweating, that can be a bad sign,” she said. “Profuse sweating can be an indicator that the body is trying to compensate, but if a person stops sweating totally, that is usually not a good sign.” While spending time at the pool is a popular cooling method during hot weather, residents should be aware of the potential threat of recreational water illnesses (RWI). Taking a shower with soap and checking the diapers of small children frequently can help keep germs that lead to RWI out of pool water. Health officials say that chlorinated water doesn’t kill all germs, diapers sometimes leak and both adults and children should stay out of the public pool when they are sick. Other preventative measures include frequent hand washing, discouraging children from drinking water that is used for swimming and giving young children bathroom breaks at least every 60 minutes.

“We take safety seriously all the way across the board from pools to barbequing to riding bikes and even walking,” said Larrick.

In addition to RWI, other water-related dangers spike during the summer. Ensuring that children know how to swim, watching young children very carefully when they are near water, swimming with a partner and wearing a life vest when boating are important safety precautions.

Safety Tips

From the Centers for Disease Control

Water Safety

  • Learn how to prevent recreational water illnesses (RWI)
  • Always supervise children when in or around water.
  • Teach kids to swim.
  • Learn CPR
  • Install a four-sided fence around home pools.

Boating Safety

  • Wear a properly fitted life jacket every time you and your loved ones are on the water

Heat Safety

  • Never leave infants, children, or pets in a parked car, even if the windows are cracked open.
  • Dress in loose, lightweight, light-colored clothing.
  • Schedule outdoor activities carefully, for morning and evening hours.
  • Stay cool with cool showers or baths.
  • Seek medical care immediate if you or your child has symptoms of heat-related illnesses

Sun Safety

  • Cover up. Clothing that covers your and your child's skin helps protect against UV rays.
  • Use sunscreen with at least SPF (sun protection factor) 15 and UVA (ultraviolet A) and UVB (ultraviolet B) protection every time you and your child go outside.

Protection from Mosquitoes and Ticks

  • Use an effective insect repellent when spending time outdoors.
  • Make your backyard a tick-safe zone.
  • Check yourself and your children for ticks.

Prevent Injuries

  • Check to make sure that the surfaces under playground equipment are safe, soft, and well-maintained.
  • Supervise young children at all times around fall hazards, such as stairs and playground equipment.
  • Use stair gates, which can help keep a busy, active child from taking a dangerous tumble.
  • Learn concussion signs and symptoms and what to do if a concussion occurs.
  • Make sure kids and teens wear the right protective equipment for their sport or recreation activity.