In the Good Ol’ Summertime…
…danger awaits! Huh?! I mean—we’ve just weathered a pandemic. What now? Well, there’s the food. And the sun. And the water sports….
That long-awaited barbecue or picnic could be lethal. Germs which cause foodborne illness are eager to join the party. Some easy ways to foil them:
• Keep cold foods cold (below 40°F) and hot foods hot (at or above 140°F).
• Throw away any perishable foods that have been sitting out at room temperature for two hours or more.
• Toss them after one hour if they’ve been sitting out at temperatures of 90°F or more—say, at that family picnic or backyard barbecue.
• Avoid eating raw or undercooked meat, seafood, poultry, or eggs.
• Wash your hands and food prep surfaces thoroughly after handling raw meat, poultry, seafood, fish, or eggs.
Blue skies, sunshine, what a day to…get crispy? Yep. Ultraviolet (UV) rays can begin to damage skin in just 15 minutes.
One easy way to assess how dangerous the day’s rays will be: check the UV Index. The index is a scale numbering from 1 to 11+ that indicates the expected intensity of UV radiation from the sun. If the UV Index value is 3 or higher, take some simple precautions:
• Slather a layer of sunscreen on all exposed skin, using a product with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15. Be generous and reapply it often—at least every two hours if you’re just sunning; more frequently if you go into the water or sweat or towel it off.
• Seek out shade under an umbrella, tree, or other shelter, especially during the hours of prime exposure (10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.).
• Cover up with a long-sleeved shirt and long pants, which offer some extra protection, as do closely-woven and darker-colored fabrics. Dry t-shirts protect better than wet ones. (But even a dry t-shirt has an SPF of less than 15—so it doesn’t offer enough protection on its own.) Some clothing is certified under international standards to offer ultraviolet protection—check labels.
• Wear a wide-brimmed hat, which shades the ears and neck as well as the face. A tightly-woven fabric, like canvas, protects better than straw, which has all those holes in the weave.
• Wear sunglasses that block UVA and UVB rays. They’ll help protect against cataracts as well as guard the fragile skin around the eyes. Wrap-around styles work best, blocking sunlight from the sides as well as the front.
Sunburn’s downside is not limited to its immediate discomforts; it can have distasteful, later-life consequences too: premature aging and wrinkling of the skin, age spots, and skin cancer. Delaware is among the 12 states with the highest rates of melanoma of the skin (the most serious skin cancer), per statistics released in June 2021 by the National Cancer Institute.
Sailing…or kayaking or canoeing or pontoon boating or paddle boarding—‘tis the season to get out on the water.Which means ‘tis also the season of rip currents. What to do if you’re caught in one?
• Don’t panic as the shore recedes despite your best efforts to swim toward it.
• Go with the current, swimming parallel to the shore. Rip currents generally impact small areas, so you soon should swim out of it.
• Once free of the current, swim back to shore.
What about avoiding—or dealing with—the risks posed by other water sports?
• Watch the alcohol intake—among teens and adults, it’s estimated that up to 70 percent of deaths related to water recreation involve alcohol.
• And guys—you be especially careful out there: nearly 80 percent of drownings occur among males.
• Love boating? Wear your life jacket! The US Coast Guard reports that about 75 percent of boating accident deaths are due to drowning. And 88 percent of those folks were not wearing life jackets.
• Taking that boat or board way, way out? Consider an EPIRB (Emergency Positioning Indicating Radio Beacon). At sea, adrift in (or out of) your vessel, your cell phone likely is lacking a signal, or waterlogged, or both. Your EPIRB will emit a distress signal which will be transmitted to a ground station, alerting rescuers to your predicament and position. The sea is vast and you—by comparison—are tiny.
It would be singularly ironic to survive a pandemic, only to succumb to the risks inherent in a typical summer. Be careful out there! ▼
Marj Shannon is an epidemiologist and writer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.