Chuck, I detest summer bugs and ailments, but which ones should I watch out for most? – Loraine B. in Springfield, Ore.
In the first three parts of this series, I began to explain 12 summer health hazards, including high outdoor temperatures, asthma, disease risks at public bodies of water, food poisoning, swimmer’s ear, foot-and-mouth disease, increased cybercrime, criminal activity on the streets and drug use.
Here are the last few health hazards among my dozen that can sting their way into your summer:
10. Biting and stinging insects. In three recent “C-Force” columns, I focused on the increased risks of bedbugs (“Sleeping With the Enemy”), tapeworms (“This Is Your Brain on Worms”) and deer ticks (“Chronic Lyme Disease: Are You Next?”). Though I recommend you read the columns in their entirety, being in the very heart of summer, a few of the points bear repeating.
As documented by Cornell University: “Unfortunately, bed bugs have made a worldwide comeback. They’re also turning up in surprising places, such as fancy hotels, hospitals, college dorms, laboratories, airports and maybe even your home.”
Despite the fact that bedbugs feed exclusively on blood, Cornell University also reports that they “are not known to transmit any diseases to humans. They may be horrifying to some, but they pose less of a risk to us than do mosquitoes.”
The unfortunate news about tapeworms is that 11 million to 29 million people in Latin America alone have been infected with them.
In North America, they most often are found in poor areas lacking good and sanitary health systems, and only 1,500 to 2,000 are infected with them in the U.S.
In 2009, deer ticks, which can carry the type of bacteria that causes Lyme disease, helped that disease surpass HIV in terms of the number of cases, adding 30,158 more cases in 2010. Increases in 2012 alone were found in the Northeast, the Midwest and the West.
Though the precautions I addressed in that trilogy of columns should be taken, the reigning kings and queens of the summer stingers remain bees, wasps, hornets, mosquitoes and fire ants. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that every year, about 100 people in the U.S. die as a result of allergic reactions from them. And the spread of West Nile virus via mosquitoes remains a problem in the U.S., as well.
The CDC recommends the following things to prevent bites and stings:
- Stay indoors (especially during peak heat times of day and late at night, when visibility is low).
- If outdoors, wear light-colored, smooth-finished clothing.
- Avoid perfumed soaps, shampoos and deodorants.
- Wear clean clothing, and bathe daily (sweat may anger bees).
- Wear clothing to cover as much of the body as possible.
- Avoid standing or lying in areas prone to fire ants or scorpions.
- Avoid flowering plants when possible.
- Avoid swampy, marshy areas where mosquitoes congregate, and use mosquito repellant.
- Remain calm and still if a single stinging insect is flying around (swatting at an insect may cause it to attack and sting).
- If you are attacked by several stinging insects at once, run to get away from them (bees release a chemical when they sting, which may attract other bees).
11. Poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac. Bugs are not the only summer culprits. Plant life can be anything but floral.
Each year, 10 million to 50 million Americans have an allergic reaction (rash) after having some contact with these poisonous plants, according to the University of Illinois at Springfield. UIS estimates that 85 percent of people are allergic to urushiol, the oil found in the sap of these plants, which can be active for months and even become airborne in particle form.
UIS explained that poison oak, poison ivy and poison sumac grow everywhere in the U.S. except Hawaii, Alaska and some desert areas in the West. Poison oak (three leaves) grows as a vine in the West but usually as a shrub in the eastern part of the U.S. Poison ivy (three leaves), true to its name, grows as a vine in the Midwest and the eastern and southern U.S. But in the far northern and western parts of the United States, Canada and around the Great Lakes, it is a shrub. Poison sumac (seven to 13 leaves) grows in standing water in peat bogs in the Northeast, Midwest and Southeast.
If you have contact with any of these poisonous plants, UIS recommends:
- “Wash all exposed areas with cold running water as soon as you can reach a stream, lake or garden hose. If you can do this within five minutes, the water may keep the urushiol from contacting your skin and spreading to other parts of your body. Within the first 30 minutes, soap and water are helpful.
- “Wash your clothing in a washing machine with detergent.
- “Relieve the itching of mild rashes by taking cool showers and applying over-the-counter preparations like calamine lotion or Burow’s solution. Soaking in a lukewarm bath with an oatmeal or baking soda solution.” Consult a physician, however, if a fever results or a rash appears on your eyelids, lips, face or genitals.
12. Pertussis, or whooping cough. Pertussis is a highly contagious bacterial respiratory tract infection that causes a severe cough that can last several weeks or even months. It starts like the common cold but progresses after one or two weeks with a violent cough.
The CDC reported that in Washington state alone, there have been 2,883 cases this year through July 7, compared with 210 reported cases in 2011 for the same period. The California Department of Public Health reported that more than “9,000 cases of pertussis were reported in California during 2010, the most in over 60 years, including 10 infant deaths.”
Keeping yourself, your child or another loved one away from other coughing children or others with cold-like symptoms is key for prevention. The CDC recommends vaccinations as the best way to prevent pertussis, but consult your physician or health practitioner about what is best for your family’s particular needs, as even vaccinations differ for infants, children, preteens, teens and adults with varying health conditions, including pregnant women.
Write to Chuck Norris (firstname.lastname@example.org) with your questions about health and fitness. Follow Chuck Norris through his official social media sites, on Twitter @chucknorris and Facebook’s “Official Chuck Norris Page.” He blogs at ChuckNorrisNews.blogspot.com.