Surviving the hot months unscathed is mostly a case of knowing which risks to really worry about.
With apologies to George Gershwin, summertime living may be easy, but behind the season’s gentle breezes lurk several health hazards. For example, the odds of being stung by a jellyfish are small, while heat stroke claims more lives on average than many natural disasters combined, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. So, here’s what to watch for, to keep your summer a safe and happy one.
Hurricanes, tornadoes and lightning strikes frequently threaten Florida residents during the summer season, so experts say make preparations ahead of time. One surprising potential risk is fast-moving streams that often follow these weather events. The streams can carry bacteria such as shigella, which are produced from pesticide residue, vehicular debris and septic tank spillovers. Other water risks include drownings in lakes and area swimming pools, and recreational water illnesses. One, an amoeba found in freshwater lakes, can lodge inside nasal passages, causing headaches and neck pain similar to symptoms seen in meningitis.
The Wild Ones
Florida has its share of wild critters, such as sharks, alligators and wild boars, but the summer months bring more random clashes with two other creatures: snakes and jellyfish. The state has six types of poisonous snakes, and campers may run into several—including the water moccasin—while boating or swimming. “My advice is to leave any snake alone, and it will leave you alone,” says David Overfield, director of environmental health, Florida Department of Health, Orange County. As for jellyfish, he applies similar advice: “If it has tentacles, stay away from it.” The sting of these baglike creatures can be fatal in rare cases. Lifeguards post purple flags to warn of their presence, usually highest in late summer and early fall.
Sun worshippers flock to the beaches in summer, but too much sun can trigger heat exhaustion or heat stroke. The sun can also raise the risk for skin cancers, including melanoma, the most deadly type. Severe sunburns and even too much time in a tanning booth can contribute to changes in size, shape or color of moles and other skin lesions that may signal a developing cancer. Detected early, however, melanoma has a high survival rate, although prevention is best—wear sunscreen with a high protection factor, cover up and avoid the midday sun. To avoid heat stroke, experts advise staying well hydrated and taking breaks during exercise. Also, never leave children or animals in a hot car, where temperatures can soar rapidly to 140 degrees.
Mosquitoes, ticks, wasps and bees all pose health problems in summer because people are outdoors more, increasing the potential for encounters. But beyond their annoyance, some of these insects can carry serious diseases. Mosquitoes can transmit West Nile virus or even dengue fever, normally seen only in the tropics. Mosquitoes’ ranges are expanding, says the state Department of Health’s Overfield.
“It’s not just cover up at dawn and dusk anymore, but whenever you’re outside,” he advises. As for tick-borne Lyme disease, Floridians see mostly sporadic cases, he says, although within 24 hours of infection, the Lyme bacterium has the ability to enter the brain, mimicking other illnesses, including lupus and even Alzheimer’s. Wasp and bee stings remain dangerous year-round, especially for those with life-threatening allergies.