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Top 5 Dangers to Watch Out for This Summer — Part One

Monkeypox, mysterious hepatitis cases in kids, rising COVID cases… With so many health risks in the news, it’s hard to know what to pay attention to and how to protect ourselves.

With so many health risks in the news, it’s hard to know what to pay attention to and how to protect ourselves. As a result, some people may completely shut down and stay home, while others may become nihilistic and throw all caution to the wind. 

Neither of those is healthy or wise. The first can lead to isolation, worsening anxiety, depression, vitamin D deficiency, and inadequate physical activity. The second opens someone up to risks that a couple of common-sense interventions could reduce.

Let’s look at the top summer health threats you and your patients are most likely to encounter and how to reduce their impact. This article will cover the two biggest ones—heat-related illnesses and COVID-19—and Thursday’s article will cover the other three: wildfires, car accidents, and vector-borne diseases. 

Heat-related illnesses

The earth continues to heat up with global climate change, and it’s not your imagination: Summers are getting hotter and hotter each year. This year, however, La Niña will cause an even hotter and drier summer than usual throughout the United States and Europe. La Niña is one of two opposing weather patterns—the other is El Niño—that interfere with normal weather patterns every two to seven years. This year’s La Niña will only exacerbate the effects of the ongoing drought in the Western U.S. 

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) April 2022 update and forecast, nearly the entire continental U.S., but especially the Midwest, Rockies, and the West, is expected to have higher than average temperatures, and many states are already feeling it. Higher temperatures mean a higher risk of heat stroke and other heat-related illnesses. However, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people can reduce the risk of those illnesses by staying cool, hydrated, and informed with the following precautions:

  • Wear lightweight, light-colored clothing.
  • Stay cool indoors with air-conditioning when possible. 
  • If you don’t have A/C at home, spend time in the shade with fans and circulating air, and visit places with A/C, such as libraries, coffee shops, or shopping malls. 
  • However, electric fans cannot prevent heat-related illnesses once temperatures reach the high 90s. Cool baths or showers can help, though. 
  • Limit outdoor activity on hot days to the coolest time of the day. 
  • Pace yourself and take breaks as needed.
  • Wear sunscreen, a hat, and sunglasses outside. 
  • In addition to increasing the risk of skin cancer, sunburn makes it harder for your body to cool down. 
  • Don’t leave children or pets in cars, even with windows cracked or open. 
  • Removing one of your shoes or leaving a stuffed animal on the seat beside you are two examples of ways to remind yourself there’s a child in the backseat if they’ve fallen asleep.
  • Avoid heavy, hot meals. 
  • Drink water regularly, staying hydrated before you ever feel thirsty. 
  • If you’re feeling thirsty, you’re already getting dehydrated.
  • Avoid sugary and alcoholic drinks, which can contribute to losing body fluid.
  • If you’re sweating a lot or doing outdoor activity in an arid area where you won’t feel the sweat, replace your body’s electrolytes with a sports drink or similar drinks. 

As many people want to believe the pandemic is over, it isn’t. COVID cases are rising throughout the U.S., and some places saw case rates similar to the Delta wave last summer. Even those vaccinated have to consider the risks of infection, particularly long COVID, which affects previously healthy individuals of all ages. Of course, we already know what to do to protect ourselves from COVID, but it never hurts to reiterate those messages:

  • Get vaccinated, and get your recommended boosters. 
  • If you haven’t been vaccinated, it’s never too late to begin the series. If you are, be sure you’ve gotten at least one booster
  • A second booster is recommended for adults age 50 and older, those with immune-compromising conditions, and those who received two doses of the J&J vaccine. 
  • Keep in mind that the FDA recently expanded the eligibility for a first booster to five to 11-year-olds. 
  • Wear a mask indoors.
  • As we noted in our Big Number in yesterday’s newsletter, federal health officials say about a third of the U.S. should be masking up right now based on COVID rates. 
  • Avoid large indoor gatherings.
  • Plan family or other gatherings outside or in very large, well-ventilated areas.
  • If you must attend a work conference, wear a well-fitted respirator mask, such as an N95, KN95, or KF94.
  • Social distance, when possible, indoors. 
  • Hand hygiene. 
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