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The Top 5 Dangers to Watch Out for This Summer — Part Two

Days of sun and fun are nearing, but summertime also brings some risks that you and your patients should prepare for.

Days of sun and fun are nearing, but summertime also brings risks that you and your patients should prepare for. As we noted in our article on Tuesday, heat-related illness and COVID-19 are the two biggest threats to your and your patient’s health this summer. Those two are not, however, the only risks to worry about. So here we’ll address the other dangers to watch out for this summer and what you and your patients can do to prepare for or prevent them. 

1. Wildfires 

Unfortunately, rising temperatures and a continuing drought are two critical ingredients for wildfire risk. The U.S. National Interagency Fire Center issued its summer National Significant Wildland Fire Potential Outlook on May 1, which predicts higher than average risk for Northern California, Hawaii, and the Rocky Mountains but, fortunately, lower than average risk for Southern California. Much of the country should expect average/normal fire risk, but even a “normal” wildfire season can be a significant health threat, particularly from the smoke. Follow these tips to be ready if you live in an area prone to wildfires.

  • Both NFPA and have wildfire preparedness tips, but the key ones include the following:
  • Pay attention to the news and emergency alerts.
  • Have copies of important documents, such as marriage and birth certificates, insurance policies, and deeds, stored digitally in a secure location.
  • Have an emergency plan, gather recommended supplies, and know your evacuation routes.
  • Have respirator masks on hand, such as N95, KN95, and KF94, if you need to go outside when smoke levels are harmful.  

2. Car Accidents

Cars have become safer and safer over the years, but motor vehicle crashes are one of the top killers yearly. Since the pandemic began, however, the risk has climbed even higher. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, more than 38,500 people died in car crashes in 2020: the highest number since 2007 and about a 7 percent increase over 2019, even though more Americans were driving in 2020 than in previous years. 

According to the NHTSA, the main reason for the jump in crashes was an increase in risky driving behaviors. Those behaviors include not wearing a seatbelt, speeding, and drunk driving. However, it’s unclear why the increase in dangerous driving has occurred. It may result from boredom or frustration while people were stuck home due to the pandemic, but even as things opened up in 2021, the accident rate didn’t slow down. Instead, it climbed even higher. Nearly 43,000 people died in car accidents in 2021, an 11 percent increase over 2020 and the highest rate in 16 years. The growth is occurring across multiple categories of crashes, too: out-of-state, urban areas, multi-vehicle crashes, and pedestrian deaths. But, of course, death isn’t the only outcome of car crashes either—even minor collisions can cause lifelong problems, such as back or neck pain.

Car accidents have decreased over the past decade until 2020, so experts are worried about the sudden loss in progress since the pandemic began. The trend looks to be continuing as well. Estimates from the National Safety Council show 2022 numbers to be on par with 2021 or higher. Summertime always means a lot of road trips, and many people may be continuing the 2021 trend of making a road trip instead of a flight to avoid COVID-19 risk as those cases climb. It’s possible rising gas prices could dent some of that travel, but either way, you should assume you’ll encounter riskier drivers than usual this summer. 

Reducing the risk of a car accident is fortunately pretty straightforward:

  • Wear your seatbelt at all times, even for short trips. 
  • Stick to the speed limit.
  • Never drive under the influence of alcohol, illegal drugs, or prescription drugs known to cause drowsiness. 
  • Avoid driving late at night or in the early morning hours when visibility is poor and drunker drivers are on the roads. 

3. Vector-borne illnesses

Just as the summer brings road trips, it also brings mosquitos and ticks, which carry various diseases. Lyme disease is usually the most significant vector-borne disease for those who live in the Northeast or northern Midwest. For other parts of the country, mosquitos tend to be the more significant issue, transmitting pathogens like West Nile virus or Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever

As climate change has increased temperatures, some formerly more tropical diseases are going further north. Fortunately, the U.S. has remained mostly free of dengue fever or Zika, but that’s not the case for Chagas disease, caused by a parasite carried by triatomine insects, more commonly called “kissing bugs.” More than 230,000 people are estimated to have a Chagas disease infection, according to the American Society for Microbiology.

The best prevention for all these diseases is not to get bitten with these tips:

  • Wear insect repellent when hiking or other wilderness activities or whenever you’re outside during dusk or dawn when mosquitoes are most active. 
  • Cover up as much as you can. Ticks are active all day long, so wear a hat if you’ll be hiking under trees that ticks can fall from, and wear high socks that reduce the chance of a tick burrowing into your ankle. If you can stand it in the heat, long pants and long-sleeved shirts are best—they protect you from the sun, too—but only if they’re lightweight, so you don’t increase your risk of heatstroke. 
  • Wear shoes outside. 
  • Avoid laying down directly on the grass and lay instead on a blanket or towel. 
  • Stick to trails while hiking and avoid walking through tall grass.
  • Keep your yard free of standing water (where mosquitoes breed) and brush and leaves where ticks and spiders live. Keep any wood stacked in dry, sunny areas to deter tick-carrying rodents from making it their home.
  • Be sure your dog is up to date on flea and tick prevention. 
  • Check yourself for ticks after returning from an area where they’re common. If you find one, carefully remove the entire tick with tweezers, starting with the mouth/head. 

The three things we’ve covered aren’t the only summer health threats: there are also sunburn, drowning, accidental firearm discharge, and fireworks injuries, but they’re the ones most people are most likely to encounter. 

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