9 Places That Could Make You Sick This Summer
Man, it’s hot out and you have more to worry about than mosquitoes and Zika virus this summer. Many places we like to visit in summer are home to bacteria and viruses, and they could make you seriously sick if you don’t take precautions. Here are a few locations where you should be careful, if you want to stay healthy:
What’s better on a hot day than a refreshing dip in the local swimming pool? Despite most pools being chlorinated to remove germs, some are relatively resistant to the chemical. One of these is cryptosporidium, which can cause diarrhea. It’s also thought that the majority of swimming pools contain E. coli, a bacteria found in human feces. Crowded public swimming pools have the most risk. Avoid swallowing pool water and make sure to shower both before and after swimming.
Your vacation rental in the mountains comes with a hot tub, and what better way to relax those muscles after a day of hiking? Well, the warm waters of the Jacuzzi aren’t disinfected often enough to prevent bacteria from getting you sick. One particularly nasty bacteria called Pseudamonas Aeruginosa can cause an infection that leads to severe rashes.
What summer vacation doesn’t include a trip to the beach? Salt water is colonized with organisms that can make you ill, and that damp beach towel you’re using several days in a row has plenty of them. The worst, perhaps, is Vibrio Vulnificus, which can cause a life-threatening soft tissue infections called necrotizing fasciitis. Even MRSA infections have been identified in damp towels, so make sure to wash and thoroughly dry them after spending a day in the water.
Sure, public restrooms are Germ Central, especially in warm weather, but it’s not just the toilet seat. The sink faucet and door handles are hot spots as well. You might consider bringing some hand sanitizer and, definitely, use paper towels or tissue instead of your bare hands to touch sink handles and the door as you leave.
School’s out, and the kids will be spending lots of time at the local playground. The swings and slides, however, are crawling with bacteria, and the sandbox might also be the litter box for interesting critters like rats, pigeons, and stray cats. One report found 59 of 60 playgrounds had bacteria like E. coli, Shigella, Salmonella, and even Hepatitis A virus. Bounce houses seem to also be teeming with germs. Always make sure children wash their hands when they return home.
Picnic food may start out hygienic, but they become colonized with bacteria if left out more than 2 hours (less if it’s really hot out). Use ice or cold packs to keep that cole slaw or potato salad below 40 degrees until you’re ready to eat. That bag of chips and finger foods are likely to be touched by a lot of dirty hands, as well. Single-serving bags are much better. And no double dipping! Once you put that chip in the salsa and then in your mouth, don’t put it back in the dip. Your mouth bacteria goes with it.
Picnic tables can be pretty dirty, so bring a clean tablecloth. Clean patio tables as often as you clean indoor tables.
THE BACKYARD GRILL
Cases of food-borne illness are most common in the summer. Food that’s undercooked might harbor E. coli and Salmonella, so make sure you cook meat evenly at 145 degrees (160 degrees for ground meat, 165 degrees for chicken and other poultry). A meat thermometer will help. Wait three minutes before digging in. Keep all meats hot until it’s time to eat.
Store your grill indoors until it’s needed. If you have to leave your grill outside, make sure to always keep it tightly covered. Bird droppings can cause contamination, and small animals may try to get in to find some leftovers. Avoid tempting them by thoroughly cleaning the grill after every use.
Whether it’s an airplane ride to a summer resort or just the bus to the beach, germs exist on seats, armrests, seat belts, and tray tables; these are rarely disinfected effectively. Carry some disinfectant wipes or hand sanitizer to decrease the colony count of bacteria and viruses.
Remember that, in many instances, colds and other respiratory infections occur as often in summer as they do in winter. Avoid touching your face with your hands, a common way to get infected. Give your homey on the bus a fist bump instead of a hand shake: you’ll pass less germs that way.
YOUR OWN GARDEN
Getting that vegetable, herb, and flower garden going will give you a sense of accomplishment but, also, an unhealthy dose of bacteria, as well as insect and animal feces. One infection from cat feces is toxoplasmosis, which can be hazardous to young children, pregnant women, and the infirm. Use garden gloves as protection and wash your hands, including that green thumb, after you’re done planting or weeding.
A FEW SUMMER SAFETY TIPS
Cuts and scrapes are almost inescapable if you’re active outdoors. Make sure to clean minor injuries and cover with a bandage of some sort. Remove wet bandages and dry the skin before replacing with a fresh one. An infected wound will appear red, swollen, and warm to the touch. Antibiotic ointment will help prevent infection, but doesn’t do much to cure an existing one.
Mosquitoes might transmit viruses like Zika or Dengue, but scratching the itch with dirty fingernails can easily cause infection with bacteria. Use mosquito repellants like DEET or Oil of lemon eucalyptus if you’re outside during mosquito season.
Prevent sunburn by staying in or providing shade with, say, beach umbrellas. Apply sunscreen 15 minutes before going outside and re-apply frequently during the day.
If even all of the above seems like a good reason to stay indoors this summer, a little preparation and common sense will go a long way to staying healthy and enjoying the outdoors this summer.
Joe Alton, MD