Enjoy your summer ... but be aware of these health risks

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Summer is the season to enjoy the outdoors, especially in the Berkshires and Southern Vermont. Families can go take a dip at a local swimming hole, hike up Mount Greylock and cook barbecue all in one day. But with all that fun, locals need to be aware of the risks inherent in summertime activities, ranging from extended sun exposure, to food-borne illnesses, to bug bites.

Dr. Susan Arnoult, a physician with MedExpress Urgent Care, which has an office in Pittsfield, talked to The Berkshire Eagle to bring awareness to common health concerns over the summer and preventative measures.

Q: As a physician, what types of injuries do you see the most over the summer?

A: We see all kinds of sprains, strains and broken bones because kids and people are out there riding their bikes, their skateboards, jumping on trampolines [which are] all things that can cause you to be more active, but also puts you at a little bit of a risk for injuring yourself.

Q: What kind of problems can arise from getting too much sun?

A: What we're concerned about the most is melanoma because that can be fatal and the best thing we know to do with that is to decrease the risk of early and severe sunburns. And to do that, sunscreen is the main weapon that we have to prevent that.

Q: Does SPF (sun protection factor) matter when buying sunscreen? What's a good range?

A: SPF does matter. I would say under 30 isn't really going to do much, unless you're only out for a short time or you're hiking in the shade and might get a little sun on you. But other than that, I would go above 30, and I would use water-resistant [sunscreen.]

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Q: How can we lower the chances of dehydration?

A: Nowadays, kids carry around water bottles with them everywhere, so I think that's a great thing. A lot of times, it's during the sports practices when kids are training during the summers for football or soccer, or other outdoors sports, could run a higher risk of becoming dehydrated and again, trainers are usually accompanying those teams, so there's a greater awareness of it now. But always keeping water with you is just the best thing when you're exercising or exerting yourself outdoors during the summer.

Q: With summer being a popular time for cookouts, what kind of precautions should people take to avoid food-borne illnesses?

A: Bacteria like warm, moist environments and so the biggest risk we have at cookouts is with food that has been sitting out long enough that it's still somewhat warm, bacteria can begin to grow and then that can cause food poisoning. Often, under-cooked meat can be a problem in terms of food poisoning, but that's probably not as common as leaving something out too long and then eating it after it's been contaminated with bacteria. So, good hand washing is always your first way of preventing food-borne illness. One of the funniest things is, inevitably, when I ask someone what made them sick, they always know. I ask, "Why did you eat it ?" If the thought crosses your mind, don't eat it.

Q: What advice do you have for people going camping?

A: Definitely, do not drink out of ponds, rivers, streams, none of that stuff. They serve as outhouses for animals. There's all kinds of parasites and bacteria that can be in that. You want to use a water purification system or bottled water.

Mosquitoes can also cause some problems. The biggest problem with mosquito bites is that they itch, and then you scratch them, and you run the risk by scratching them open of getting a little bit of an infection in your skin. So trying to alleviate the itch and not scratching them to prevent that from happening. Bug spray is an excellent idea to keep mosquitoes from biting you. We also have ticks, and the tick-borne illness we are concerned about the most is Lyme disease. So high-quality bug spray helps keep ticks from biting you. Also wearing long sleeves when it's appropriate or long pants if you're in the woods, that helps prevent those tiny ticks from biting you.

If you do get bitten by a tick and go to your doctor within 72 hours, there is a single dose of antibiotics that we can give that prevents Lyme disease, according to the CDC.


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