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The Break Room: Don’t Let Summer Hazards Tick You Off

Ah, summertime. The season that brings sunny skies, vacation time, the great outdoors … and mosquitoes, poison ivy, sunburn and ticks.

I love spending time outside, and now that summer is nearly here, I’m able to hit the trails more often. But as much as I love nature, I’m not immune to some of the hazards and annoyances of the outdoors. My skin is fair and burns easily, mosquitoes absolutely adore me and I’m so allergic to poison ivy that on more than one occasion I’ve had to seek emergency treatment for a particularly bad case. And don’t get me started on that time I camped in a poison oak patch in Oregon.

As much as we might want to feel we’re clear and free the minute our vacation time starts ticking, the reality is that we must protect our safety and health round the clock. Whether you want to soak up the sun on the beach, take a long hike through the woods or enjoy a simple backyard barbecue, taking a few precautions will help you better enjoy your time off this summer without dealing with any painful or itchy side effects.

If, for example, you’re as susceptible to mosquitoes as I am, then you’ll take all the help you can get in keeping them at bay. Those bites are painful and can be dangerous, too.

“Mosquitoes not only cause unbearable inconvenience by stinging constantly, [but] they can also cause fatal ailments like malaria and dengue,” says Luis Pabon, technical director of Catseye Pest Control. “In fact, mosquitoes are classified as the deadliest creatures on the planet because millions die of malaria all over the world every year.”

To protect yourself from mosquitoes this summer, Pabon stresses the importance of eliminating standing water on your property. Make sure any outdoor barrels, trashcans or other containers are covered tightly with a lid or with 16-mesh screen. Fill in low spots, holes or hollow stumps so they cannot fill with standing water. Empty your pet’s water bowl daily and change the water in birdbaths, plant pots, drip trays or plastic wading pools at least weekly. Finally, keep your grass cut short.

When it comes to ticks and the risk of Lyme disease, the odds may be stacked against us this summer. According to Paul Curtis, a professor of natural resources and an extension wildlife specialist at Cornell University, a warm winter has induced earlier-than-usual tick activity. That means we may be in for a “bad tick year,” he says. This also may increase the risk for Lyme disease, the most common tick-borne illness in the United States.

“People should be especially aware when outdoors during the May-July season for nymphal black-legged ticks,” Curtis explains. “Nymphal ticks are often responsible for spreading Lyme disease to people. The disease can be debilitating to humans if undiagnosed, causing chronic fatigue, joint pain and neurological problems.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), you can steer clear of ticks by avoiding wooded, bushy areas; walking in the center of trails; using repellents that contain at least 20 percent DEET (but use caution whenever applying or handling DEET products); and treating clothing and gear with products that contain permethrin.

CDC also recommends conducting full-body tick checks with a mirror after returning from possibly infested areas; showering or bathing after coming indoors to more easily find ticks; checking children in all hard-to-reach areas, particularly in the hair; examining gear and pets for ticks; and placing clothes in a dryer on high heat for 1 hour to kill any remaining ticks.

I urge you to follow the off-the-job safety advice found here and elsewhere in this issue when you’re celebrating summer this year. Now hurry up and pass me that sunscreen.

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