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Public Health Column for the Times-News

A checklist for a great summer

Published: Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Times-News Columnist

Some of you may have spent Independence Day hiking a favorite mountain trail. Or maybe you used the day to play outside with your kids or visit a swimming pool. Perhaps you had family and friends over for a cookout. How was the outside temperature?

It's a great time of year! Except when you find a tick attached to your body, or you have to endure a week of extreme heat, or something you ate at a picnic turns your stomach upside down.

Ticks are most active now

Although ticks are a natural part of our environment, the bacteria and viruses they sometimes carry do cause serious infections. The good news is that many of these infections can be prevented by using basic personal control measures and prompt detection after being outside:

• Wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts. Tuck your pant legs into your socks and tuck shirt-tails into pants.

• Use a tick repellent for an additional layer of protection. Pre-treat clothing with insecticidal products but carefully follow the directions.

• Check your clothing and gear for ticks, especially along seams and pockets.

• Shower soon after being outdoors to look for ticks. Pay particular attention to your scalp, back and groin. Use a mirror to view areas that you cannot easily see. Check your children and any pets, too.

If you are bitten, quick removal of the tick can reduce the chance of infection. If you find a tick attached to your body, follow these steps:

• Carefully remove the tick by grasping it with finetipped tweezers as close as possible to your skin. Apply a steady, gentle pull until it releases. Save the tick for identification in case you become ill later. Place the tick in a sealable container or plastic bag. Write the date of the bite on the bag and place it in your freezer.

• If you develop symptoms within a few weeks, contact your health care provider. The most common symptoms are fever/chills, aches and pains and a rash. Your doctor may want to identify the tick that you saved

• Please note that the Department of Public Health does not identify or test ticks for species or disease. We are not able to send them to a lab to confirm a disease.

Stay cool to avoid heat-related illness

Do you know what to do if you feel sick from extreme heat? Heat-related deaths and illness are preventable.

Heat exhaustion is the body's response to an excessive loss of water and salt, usually through excessive sweating. Other symptoms include headache, nausea, dizziness, weakness, thirst, irritability, elevated body temperature and decreased urine output.

If you suspect heat exhaustion, take the person to a clinic or emergency room. If medical care is unavailable, call 911. In addition, remove the person from the hot area and give liquids to drink. Remove unnecessary clothing, including shoes and socks. Cool the person with cold compresses and encourage frequent sips of cool water.

Heat stroke, the most serious heat-related illness, occurs when the body's temperature rises rapidly, the ability to sweat fails and the body is unable to cool down. Heat stroke can cause death or permanent disability if emergency treatment is not given.

Symptoms include confusion, altered mental status, slurred speech, loss of consciousness, hot dry skin or profuse sweating, seizures and a very high body temperature.

Call 911 for emergency care because heat stroke is fatal if treatment is delayed. Meanwhile, move the person to a shaded area and remove outer clothing until emergency medical services arrive. Use cold water or ice bath to cool the person or soak clothing with cool water.

Prevent heat-related illness:

• People age 65 and older, children younger than two and people with chronic diseases or mental illness are at highest risk from heatrelated illnesses. Closely monitor people who depend on you for their care. Are they drinking enough water? Do they have access to air conditioning? Do they need help keeping cool?

• Stay in air-conditioned buildings as much as possible (do not rely on a fan as your primary cooling device during an extreme heat event).

• Drink more water than usual; don't wait until you're thirsty to drink.

• Don't use the stove or oven to cook as it will make you and your house hotter.

• Limit outdoor activity, especially midday when the sun is hottest. Pace activity.

• Wear loose, lightweight, light-colored clothing.

• Never leave children or pets alone in cars. A child's body heats up 3 to 5 times faster than an adult's. It only takes a few short minutes before a child or animal can become dangerously overheated.

Be food-safe this summer

Most people don't think about food safety until they or someone they know gets sick after eating contaminated food. Food-borne illness, often called food poisoning, is common and costly, yet preventable. According to Foodsafety.gov, one in six Americans or about 48 million people will get sick from food poisoning this year. Most recover without any lasting effects, but for some, the effects can include long-term health problems such as kidney failure, chronic arthritis, brain and nerve damage or even death. Young children, pregnant women, adults over 65 and people with weak immune systems are more at risk for food poisoning.

See your health care provider if you experience these symptoms:

• High fever (temperature over 101.5°F)

• Blood in the stools

• Frequent vomiting that prevents you from keeping liquids down

• Signs of dehydration, including a decrease in urination, a dry mouth and throat and feeling dizzy when standing up.

• Diarrhea that lasts more than three days

Anyone can get sick from eating contaminated food. But when food preparation is under your control, take the following four actions to protect yourself and loved ones by keeping food safe:

  1. Wash your hands and food-preparation surface often. Germs can survive in many places including hands, utensils and cutting boards. Rinse fresh fruits and vegetables under running water.
  2. Separate —don't crosscontaminate. Raw meat, poultry, seafood and eggs can still spread germs to ready-to-eat foods unless you keep them separate.
  3. Cook food to the right temperature. Use a food thermometer to ensure that foods are cooked to a safe internal temperature. Check out these charts for safe temperatures at foodsafety. gov/keep/charts.
  4. Chill-keep your refrigerator below 40°F and refrigerate foods promptly. Germs can grow in many foods within two hours unless refrigerated. During summer heat it only takes one hour.

View more information on ticks, heat-related illness and food-borne safety at the Health Department's website, hendersoncountync. org/health.

Kim Horton is the communications manager at the Henderson County Department of Public Health. She can be reached at khorton@hendersoncountync.org.

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Department of Public Health • 1200 Spartanburg Highway, Suite 100 • Hendersonville, NC 28792 • (828) 692-4223