Memorial Day Weekend: Tips for a Healthy, Safe Summer

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By Dr. Nina Radcliff

At the top of this Memorial Day weekend, our hearts beat with respectful pause in honor of our brave men and women who have given the ultimate sacrifice, their lives to preserve our rights. For many of us, special plans are underway as we gather with friends and family in remembrance and gratitude to each who have taken action to protect our country. And according to the American Automobile Association (AAA), more people will be taking to our highways and scenic byways this Memorial Day weekend to enjoy our communities throughout our nation – estimating more than 39.3 million Americans are traveling (up almost 3% over last year).  It is a special time as we step out into our country’s great outdoors – and too, we welcome what has become synonymous with this weekend, the first days summer.

This shift to our warmer, longer days brings a new season of opportunities for enjoyment – but the facts are it is a time that often spikes in injuries and accidents.  Also, there are recent reports from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issuing some new warnings with respect to the rise of warning about Tick-borne diseases on the rise. Here are some important reminders as you plan your summer activities:

Dr. Nina’s What You Need to Know:  Important Tips for a Healthy & Safe Summer

Dehydration Our sweat glands play a critical role in thermoregulation—the process that allows our body to maintain its core internal temperature. When we sweat and the sweat evaporates into the environment, heat gets transferred out of our body—thereby allowing us to cool down. However, this can quickly lead to dehydration if we are not conscious of the fact and take efforts to replenish with fluids.

  • Make sure to drink plenty of water and avoid sugary and energy drinks or alcohol to hydrate
  • Know the signs of dehydration—they include headaches, dizziness, confusion, and a fast heart rate. One of the first signs of heat exhaustion is leg cramping. Use it is an indicator that it is time to take a “time out” and seek medical treatment. 

Driving safety Memorial Day Weekend is one of the busiest times of the year for drivers, and, also one of the deadliest. The National Safety Council estimates that more than 400 people may be killed on the road this year (data shows that from 2010 to 2015 there were an average of 364 deaths over the Memorial Day holiday period). Some safety tips include:

  • Buckling up. Experts agree that this is one of the most effective measures we can take to protect ourselves and those riding with us. In fact, it is estimated that every year seat belts save over 13,000 lives in motor vehicle accidents and can decrease the risk of moderate-to-critical injury by 50%.
  • Don’t drive distracted. Distracted driving is defined as any activity that causes a driver to take their eyes off the road or hands off the wheel and includes using a cell phone, eating, drinking, grooming, reading (including maps), operating a navigation system, or watching a video. Accidents can happen in nanoseconds. Statistics show that it contributes to well over a million car crashes and 16 percent of fatal accidents every year.   
  • Don’t drink and drive. If you choose to enjoy an alcoholic drink, designating a driver who is not drinking should be as automatic as buckling our seat belts. Annually, there are over 10,000 completely preventable, unnecessary, and tragic deaths due to drunk driving. 

Water safety Nearly 3,000 Americans die from drowning every year.

  • Always use the buddy system when swimming; even at a public pool or beach where there is a lifeguard.
  • Young children should never, ever, EVER be left unsupervised around water. Kids can drown before we know it. In fact, studies show that most children who drown were out of their parent’s sight for less than 5 minutes!
  • Do not jump into anything you cannot see. Hitting a submerged rock or shallow bottom can cause tragedy, including paralysis or drowning after becoming unconscious
  • Do not swallow pool water or waterpark playgrounds and always rinse off in the shower before getting in or out of a pool –   outbreaks of diarrhea linked to cryptosporidiosis parasites have been on the rise according to the CDC. As well, don’t swim or let a family member swim if sick with diarrhea (wait two weeks).

Food safety Memorial Day barbecues and get-togethers are a tradition for millions across the nation. But be aware that improperly cooked or stored foods can make us sick to our stomachs

  • Cook meat products such as hamburgers and hot dogs thoroughly
  • Wash your hands with soap and water before handling food and after touching raw meat
  • Use separate utensils, dishes, and cutting boards for raw/uncooked meats to avoid cross-contamination of bacteria
  • Refrigerate perishable foods within two hours and keep products with mayonnaise (salads, coleslaw) out of the sun for longer than 15 minutes

Grill safety There is a saying that “You can’t buy happiness but…you can BBQ and that’s kind of the same thing.” But, did you know that outdoor grilling is responsible for an average of 8,900 home fires every year (according to The National Fire Protection Association)?  Here are some safety tips:

  • Use outdoor grills, outdoors. And, too, do not use them in a garage, breezeway, carport; under overhanging branches; or near other surface that can catch fire.
  • Keep your grill clean. Memorial Day Weekend is often the first time of the year that Americans fire up the outdoor grill—make sure to do a thorough cleaning before using. Uncontrolled fires can occur from grease on the grill or blockages in tubes that lead to the burner from insects or grease. Also, check and replace connecters that can lead to a gas leak.
  • Never leave a lit grill unattended

Sun Safety The CDC states that the sun’s ultraviolet rays can damage your skin in as little as 15 minutes! Sun damage is responsible for premature skin aging such as wrinkles and spots and increases our risk for skin cancer. There is research showing that getting sunburnt, just once every 2 years, can triple your risk of melanoma skin cancer! So let’s make sure to protect ourselves (and our kids) by:

  • Using barriers—sunglasses, wide brim hats, protective clothing
  • Seek out the shade
  • Apply broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or greater and reapply every 2 hours or immediately after swimming or excessive sweating.

Ticks/Lyme disease:  Tick-borne diseases overall are on the rise, and prevention should be on everyone’s mind. The bacteria causing Lyme disease is transmitted to humans by tick bites; and ticks are most active between the months of April to September. The good news is that with proper precautions, Lyme disease can be prevented.

  • When possible, avoid bushy or wooded areas with high grass and leaf litter. If you cannot, make sure to walk in the center of a trail; wear protective clothing such as long-sleeved shirts and pants that can tuck into our socks; and use 20-30 percent DEET (repellant) on clothing and exposed skin.
  • After returning from outdoor hiking or even routine backyard excursions, conduct a full-body tick check. If you have been bit by a tick, don’t panic—it takes between 36-48 hours to transmit the bacteria. Remove the tick promptly with tweezers and seek medical treatment if you observe symptoms (e.g., bull’s eye rash, fatigue).
  • Also in traveling to the Northeast and Great Lakes area, there has been in an increase of Powassan, a tick-borne illness. People with severe Powassan often need to be hospitalized to receive respiratory support, intravenous fluids or medications to reduce swelling in the brain. There’s no vaccine to prevent Powassan – prevention in protecting yourself is vital.

May this weekend be a beautiful time of remembrance – and start of a great, safe summer season.

Dr. Nina Radcliff is dedicated to her profession, her patients and her community, at large. She is passionate about sharing truths for healthy, balanced living as well as wise preventive health measures. 

She completed medical school and residency training at UCLA and has served on the medical faculty at The University of Pennsylvania. She is a Board Certified Anesthesiologist and a member of the American Society of Anesthesiologists where she serves on committees for Young Physicians and Communications. Author of more than 200 textbook chapters, research articles, medical opinions and reviews; she is often called upon by media to speak on medical, fitness, nutrition, and healthy lifestyle topics impacting our lives, today.