Insect bites, Food poisoning, Sun, Infections: Examples of Summer Related Health Problems
Sun and Heat: Dehydration, Heat stroke and Sunburn
Dehydration is common during the summer months due to loss of fluids through excessive sweating and not drinking enough water to compensate that loss. It is especially common in the elderly because the thirst sensation diminishes with age and infants and children. Dehydration can range from mild, to moderate and severe and may even become life threatening if not treated immediately.
Symptoms include dizziness, nausea, headaches, thirst, dark urine, low blood pressure, fever and severe dehydration may cause delirium (confusion) and unconsciousness. In newborns and infants a sunken fontanel (soft triangles on the front and back of the head) and not enough wet diapers may be signs of dehydration. Contact your healthcare provider if you are experiencing any of these symptoms.
Prevention is simple, just drink enough water! An average adult requires around 2-3 liters of water a day. Avoid drinking too much alcohol, and coffee. Check that urine color is light and urination occurs at least every 3-5 hours. Do not overdo it with water consumption. Consuming too many fluids can also be dangerous.
Children and the elderly have other needs regarding water or fluid consumption than healthy adults. Eat fresh fruit such as watermelons that are high in water content. Avoid staying for too long in the heat allow your body to cool down and remember to replenish fluids.
2. Heat Stroke
Heat stroke refers to a high body temperature of over 40.6oC (105.1oF) due to heat exposure. Other related conditions include heat exhaustion, syncope, cramps, rash, tetany and edema. High risk populations include young infants and children, the elderly, disabled, and pets. Noteworthy are many incidents of heat stroke or death that have been documented after leaving children, elderly, disabled or pets in the car.
Symptoms are similar to dehydration and immediate professional help should be sought.
Prevention is simple as in the case of dehydration. Avoid staying the heat, drink plenty of water, avoid alcohol, coffee or heavy meals, wear light colored, loose fitting clothes, and inform yourself on symptoms of heat stroke.
Sunburn is the most common cause of discomfort during the summer months especially for light skinned or red haired persons. But everyone is at risk! It is caused by exposure to the sun and therefore ultraviolet light and causes skin damage that may range from mild, to moderate to even severe burns.
Symptoms include red and sore skin with begin 3-5 hours after exposure to the sun. Severe sunburns include blister, fever, chills, swelling of the skin and dehydration similar symptoms. Professional help should be sought immediately.
Prevention is again simple and easy. Avoid direct sunlight and never go out in the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.! Wear light colored, cotton, loose fitting clothes that cover most of your body, sunglasses and hat. Wear sunscreen with a high protection factor (ideally above 30). The more fair skinned you are the higher the SPF you should use.
Apply sun screen 20 minutes before you go in the sun and reapply every hour or after you have come out of water. Protect your children and the elderly! Infants should never be in the sun! Remember UV light can cause skin cancer and is dangerous!
Foods that are mostly associated with food borne illnesses are:
- Raw foods of animal origin such as raw shellfish, raw eggs, raw meat and poultry, and unpasteurized milk
- Foods of many individual animals such as minced meats, milk from many cows etc.
- Fruits and vegetables through irrigation with contaminated water and fertilizers
(according to the CDC)
- Cook meat, eggs and poultry thoroughly
- Wash fruit and vegetables thoroughly under running water
- Separate food to avoid cross contamination
- Chill leftover promptly
- Clean: Wash your hands, produce, utensils
- Report a suspected food borne illness to your local health department
Food poisoning is more frequent during the summer months because pathogens multiply quicker in the heat and is not harmless since according to the CDC it kills thousands in the United States each year!
The bacteria, viruses and parasites that cause infection are numerous. Toxins of pathogens may also cause food poisoning.
Contamination of food may originate from the actual raw material used such as the food from animal origin, fruit or vegetable. Later on in the food chain contamination may take place from infected humans or cross contamination with other raw products for example through not washing hands, or infected utensils that are not washed or even through contact with raw products. Lastly preservation of food and food products is also a source of contamination, for example correct refrigeration, canning, leaving food in the heat.
High risk groups
Pregnant women, the elderly or people with a compromised immune system are more prone to infections especially Listeria and should avoid uncooked and unpasteurized products. Infants are also prone to infections especially bottle fed infants to Salmonella and people with liver disease are prone to Vibrio infection and should avoid therefore oysters and shellfish.
Common examples of pathogens that cause disease and death each year in the United States according to the CDC include:
- Salmonella (eggs and poultry products) cause salmonella enteritis typhoid fever, and salmonellosis
- Vibrio bacteria found in sea water, oyster, shellfish
- Shigella, Hepatitis A, and Norovirus are all introduced through unwashed hands of food handlers
- Listeria and Yersinia do NOT stop multiplying by refrigeration
- Clostridium that is NOT killed by high temperatures and Staphylococcal toxins
- Campylobacter Species
- Escherichia coli
- Toxoplasma gondii
Symptoms are not specific for each pathogen and there are a large number of symptoms that can occur with food poisoning. Common symptoms include diarrhea, vomiting, nausea and abdominal cramps. Consult your health care provider if you have any of these symptoms.
There are a large number of infections that are common during the summer months. Listed below are the most common infections.
Urinary Tract Infections Look at Hub on Urinary Tract Infections
Gastroenteritis (mostly caused by food borne illness)
Also called Otitis Externa is common during the summer since water from for example swimming gets trapped into the ear canal resulting in the multiplication of bacteria and causing infection.
Symptoms include pain in the ear, neck, face or head, fever, swollen lymph nodes, drainage, decreased hearing and the feeling that the ear is blocked.
Severe complications may arise if left untreated so consult your health care provider if you have any symptoms.
Treatment depends on the severity of the infection and may include in early stages of infection cleaning of the ear canal by the health care provider, eardrops, pain medication and antibiotics.
Prevention tips according to the American Academy of Otorlaryngology include:
1. Not using cotton ear swabs
2. Keeping the ears dry
3. Using a clean towel or hair dryer to dry the ears
4. Using ear plugs when swimming
5. Visiting the ENT to clean ears professionally
Center for Disease Control and Prevention
Prevention of Insect Bites
- Use of repellants such as DEET and picaridin or others
- Use Permethrin on clothing and gear
- Wear long sleeved clothing, and hats - cover your skin
- Stay in air-conditioner and indoors
- Use a bed net
- Protect children!
- Avoid contact with insects
- Check yourself, children, pets, and gear regularly
- Contact your healthcare provider for information
Insect bites can be particularly dangerous during the summer months especially if you are traveling to parts of the world that are high risk for diseases transferred by mosquitoes, ticks, arthropods and other insects. The CDC website offers great information to travelers on health risks from insect bites or other relevant information regarding general health hazards for the destination you are traveling to or even for the area you are living in.
Nevertheless regardless of where you are in the world you should protect yourself or your children from insect bites. High risk populations include pregnant women, newborn, infants and children, the elderly and immune suppressed populations.
Some people may experience allergic reactions to insect bites that may range from a small localized, to a large localized reaction or to a systemic reaction or anaphylaxis that may even be life threatening and requires IMMEDIATE medical attention.
A large localized reaction refers to a large area around the insect bite swelling up. This swelling will last more than 48 hours and it is dangerous if it affects your airways. A rash, nausea and pain and swelling in the joints may occur. Consult your health care provider if you are experiencing any of these symptoms
2. Tick borne Illnesses
The summer months offer the perfect weather conditions for ticks to become more active. The best protection against tick borne illnesses is of course the prevention of tick bites in the first place.
- Avoid direct contact with ticks
- Use tick repellants such as DEET or Permethrin on clothing
- Find and remove ticks from your body
Examine gear, pets and children. Especially look in ears, back of knees, belly button, armpits, between the legs and in hair. The CDC website provides information on the correct removal of ticks but do consult your health care provider before you remove a tick.
If you notice a tick bite or tick, contact your health care provider for further information on the correct removal of the tick and eventually antibiotic prophylactic treatment against tick borne illnesses.
This tick borne disease is common in the northern hemisphere and is due to species of the bacteria Borrelia. Early symptoms include a characteristic skin rash called erythema migrans, fever, and headaches which can be treated with antibiotics. If not treated it affects the nervous system and heart, may cause disability or be life threatening.
FSME is caused by a virus that is transmitted through the tick bite and is found in Europe and Asia. Early symptoms include muscle aches, headaches and fever and symptoms develop in later stages to meningitis, encephalitis, or myelitis. There is no specific treatment of FSME and in Europe a vaccine does exist that is not available in the US.
The Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is a potentially life threatening illness transferred by ticks to humans and found mainly in America from Canada to South America. Early symptoms include headache, fever, nausea and vomiting, and muscle pain. Later symptoms include petechial rash, abdominal pain, rash and joint pain. Immediate antibiotic treatment should be initiated.
3. Mosquito borne Illnesses
The CDC advises on several preventative general measures that can be taken for protection against insect bites.
Some preventative measures to reduce the risk of mosquito bites include:
- Use of repellants such as DEET and picaridin
- Use Permethrin on clothing and gear
- Wear long sleeved clothing, and hats
- Stay in air-conditioner and indoors
- Use a bed net
- Protect children!
The West Nile Virus or a type of Flavivirus was responsible for the 2012 epidemic that killed hundreds of people in the US alone. It is a virus that can be found around the world and is transferred from the mosquito bite. Symptoms may include fever, headaches, rash, nausea and vomiting and leads to encephalitis, meningitis, and poliomyelitis. Immunosuppressed individuals are especially susceptible.
Dengue Fever is endemic to 110 countries mostly in the southern hemisphere and is caused by a Flavivirus. It can cause fever, headaches, rash, muscle and joint pain as well as bleeding and low blood pressure. Treatment is supportive of the symptoms since there is no specific treatment.
Yellow fever is endemic in the tropics and subtropics and is caused also by a Flavivirus. A vaccine exists against Yellow fever. Symptoms are similar to Dengue Fever and it causes an increased bleeding tendency. There is no specific treatment for Yellow fever.
Malaria is endemic to the tropics and subtropics and is caused by five species of the pathogen Plasmodium. Malaria is a life threatening illness that initially causes flu like symptoms but leads to cerebral symptoms, respiratory distress, anemia, renal failure and eventually death. No vaccine exists but people travelling to malaria-endemic regions receive antimalarial medication as prophylaxis.
Zoonosis are illnesses that are transmitted from animals to humans. Some examples of zoonosis that are more common during the summer months are:
5. Other Summer Viruses
- Coxsacie Viruses
- Polio Virus
The information provided in this article is intended for informational purposes only and is not advise also provided without any representations and no warranties whatsoever. The provided information should never substitute the consultation, opinion , diagnosis, and treatment options provided by a professional healthcare provider.
These are some examples of illnesses and health conditions that can occur during the summer months. Of course this article is not intended to cover EVERY health hazard that could probably occur during the summer months but just give examples of a few and some preventative measures. Use preventative measures, consult with your healthcare provider especially if you are traveling, use common sense and enjoy your vacations!