Baton Rouge --- The summer season is a time for swimming, picnicking and playing outdoors. Unfortunately, the good times can quickly turn bad in the form of heatstroke, drowning accidents and mosquito bites. To help keep summer safe, the Department of Health is issuing a list of common summer health threats and steps people can take to lessen their risk of each one.
"Summertime brings to mind images of fun and recreational activities," said Secretary David W. Hood. "Unfortunately, it also is a time when people have greater exposure to heat and water activities, both of which can prove dangerous. Our department is issuing some simple precautions everyone should follow to ensure that this summer is an enjoyable one."
Heat is one summertime problem area in Louisiana, where temperatures can get very high and humid. Every summer there are reports of children or the elderly becoming ill or even dying from exposure to heat. People suffer from heat-related illness when their bodies are unable to compensate and properly cool themselves. The body normally cools itself by sweating but, under some conditions, sweating just isn’t enough. In such cases, a person’s body temperature rises rapidly. At this point, very high body temperatures may damage the brain or other vital organs.
Heat stroke is the most serious heat-related illness. Body temperatures may rise to 106 degrees or higher within 10 to 15 minutes. Heat strokes can cause death or permanent disability if emergency treatment is not provided.
Warning signs of heat stroke include extremely high body temperature; red, hot and dry skin; rapid, strong pulse; throbbing headache; and dizziness, nausea, confusion and/or unconsciousness. Any of these signs can be a life-threatening emergency. Immediate medical assistance should be started to begin cooling the victim, including bringing him or her to a shady area and cooling the victim rapidly with cool water. Make sure to monitor the person’s body temperature and above all, do not give the victim alcohol to drink.
"The best ways to avoid heat stroke are to drink plenty of fluids, replace salts and minerals, wear appropriate clothing and sunscreens, pace yourself, schedule outdoor activities carefully and adjust to the environment," said State Health Officer Dr. Jimmy Guidry.
Another summer health threat is drowning. Parents often allow their children to indulge in swimming during the summer months, but pools can be dangerous if they do not take the proper steps to keep water activities safe and enjoyable.
DHH’s Office of Public Health and its SAFE KIDS Program offers the following 10 tips to make sure water activities remain safe.
1. Adult Supervision – Never leave children alone in or near water, even in shallow wading pools. And, do not substitute parental supervision for that of an older sibling. Children can drown in as little as one inch of water.
2. Learn to Swim – Children and adults should learn to swim. Do not assume your child is "drown-proof" even though he/she may have taken lessons and learned to swim. Children still need constant supervision.
3. Learn CPR – Adults and children over age 13 should learn infant and child CPR.
4. Dive Carefully – Do not let children dive into water unless an adult is present and knows that the depth of the water is greater than nine feet.
5. Avoid Bad Weather – Never allow children to swim during lightning storms or other bad weather.
6. Maintain Fences and Gates – Fences and walls should be at least four feet high around the pool. Fence gate latches should be out of the reach of small children.
7. Rescue Equipment – Keep rescue equipment by the pool and be sure a phone is near the pool, and that emergency numbers are posted.
8. Check the Pool First! – If a child is missing, always look in the pool first. Seconds count in preventing death or disability.
9. Personal Flotation Devices – Make sure your child wears a U.S. Coast Guard-approved personal flotation device (PFD) when on a boat, near open bodies of water or when participating in water sports. Air-filled "swimming aids" are not considered safety devices and are not substitutes for PFDs.
10. Use Sunscreen – Watch out for sunburn. Swimming safely also means protecting a child’s sensitive skin from the sun. Make sure children are wearing plenty of waterproof sunscreen of at least SPF 15, and reapply it every few hours.
To avoid food poisoning and related illnesses this summer, take special care during food preparation when having picnics and barbecues outdoors. Always refrigerate foods promptly, since bacteria grow at room temperature. Do not leave foods sitting out in the sun for long periods of time. It also is important when grilling to thoroughly cook seafood, meat and poultry before serving. When eating produce, it is necessary to wash the fruits and vegetables before consumption. If you are eating outdoors, wash your hands frequently to avoid getting dirt onto the food. Also, remember to wash any cutting boards, utensils and plates you have used outdoors before using them to serve other foods.
A final precaution to take when spending time outdoors during the summer months is avoiding mosquito bites. Humans can contract both West Nile virus and St. Louis Encephalitis after being bitten by infected mosquitoes. Most people infected with the virus do not experience severe effects, but in extreme cases both diseases can cause encephalitis and lead to brain damage or death.