Summer Fun: Staying Safe, Reducing Infection Risk
July 3, 2018
Summer time often brings about thoughts of long-deserved vacations, completing projects around the house, or playing with the children and grandchildren. But whether you and your family stay close to home or you go off to explore other places, it’s still important to take precautions and reduce your risk of contracting infections that could lead to sepsis.
Camping or staying at the cottage
Few things say summer like a camping trip or a visit to the cottage. These settings give you or your children opportunities to participate in new or favorite activities, such as sitting around a campfire, swimming in a lake, or hiking along trails. Working around the cottage or campsite is also part of getting away, perhaps chopping wood, making repairs, or cooking with a barbecue or an unfamiliar stovetop. Unfortunately, these activities also come with the risk of hurting yourself, and the outdoor or rustic environment may make it harder to keep open wounds clean and free from germs that could cause a bacterial infection.
If you break your skin with a cut, scrape, or burn, it’s important to be scrupulous about keeping it clean. Unless you can apply a waterproof bandage, avoid swimming, particularly in a lake or river, until the skin heals. Any open wound is an opening for bacteria to enter and cause an infection.
Bug bites are also common when you spend time outdoors and tick bites can transmit illnesses like Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Bug bites are often itchy and uncomfortable. Avoid scratching them so as not to break the skin. If you find a tick, it’s vital that it be removed properly to reduce the risk of infection. The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows you how here.
Many families have a backyard swimming pool or they may belong to community pools. Proper control of chlorine and other chemicals keeps pool water relatively clean. However, while chlorine kills most germs, it doesn’t kill them all, so some types of infections are still possible. Recreational water illnesses (RWIs) are illnesses caused by germs in water found in swimming pools, hot tubs, water parks, and other recreational water locations. Cryptosporidiosis (crypto), a parasite, is one example.
The CDC offers these tips to reduce the risk of infection from water:
- Make sure the drain at the bottom of the deep end is visible.
- Use pool test strips to make sure the water’s pH and free chlorine or bromine concentration are correct.
- pH 7.2–7.8
- free chlorine concentration of at least 3 ppm in hot tubs/spas and at least 1 ppm in other places with treated water
- free bromine concentration of at least 4 ppm in hot tubs/spas and at least 3 ppm in other places with treated water
Staying home may also mean bike rides, trips to the park, and other outdoor activities. Staying active and enjoying the outdoors is a great way to spend summer vacation, but again, it’s important to be safe. For example, not only is staying in the sun without sunscreen bad for your skin overall, if you get a second-degree burn, a sunburn with blisters, you can be at risk of getting an infection if the blisters break, leaving an opening for bacteria to enter. If you get a sunburn, do not pop the blisters. If they pop on their own, protect the area as you would any other open wound.
For many families, summer vacation means traveling to visit family and friends or to explore new places, either within the U.S. or abroad. Enclosed spaces, such as planes and trains, can expose you to viruses if a fellow traveler is ill. It’s not unheard of for people returning from a fun vacation only to find themselves ill with a bad cold or the flu just as they get home. Influenza season in North American generally runs from October to March or April, but the virus is present all year.
Reduce the risk of catching a virus while traveling by washing your hands thoroughly and frequently. Many frequent flyers carry antiseptic disposable cloths to wipe down their immediate environment, such as the seatbelt buckle, tray, and arm rests, to further reduce their risks. Of course, it’s also important to be up-do-date on your recommended vaccines and if you are traveling outside of the country, check to see if there are recommended or required vaccines for your destination country. Also be sure to follow local recommendations about consuming tap water or uncooked foods to reduce the risk of food poisoning.
Summer is too short in many parts of the country to not get out and play, no matter your age. Being aware of potential infection risks and knowing how to reduce those risks allows you to have fun and take advantage of all this beautiful season has to offer. Every time you prevent an infection, you prevent sepsis.