In these uncertain times, the start of summer — marked unofficially by the just-passed, long Memorial Day weekend — may have caught more than a few of us by surprise. Seasonal health and safety precautions, however, should be well considered and carefully carried out, especially by parents.
All of us, for example, must step up our safeguards against damages caused by exposure to the sun, reported Jane Brody, the longtime health and wellness columnist for the New York Times. She noted that she, like many people, talked a good game about avoiding peak burn times of the day and slathering on sunscreen. She didn’t always follow through, though she has recommitted to doing so for a reason, she wrote:
“I hereby pledge to do better this year, albeit late in the game. A new report from a dermatology team at Kaiser Permanente health care centers in California has prompted me to reform. The team, headed by the epidemiologist Lisa Herrinton in Oakland, followed nearly half a million patients seen at the centers for up to 10 years. Half had already developed one or more actinic keratosis, a precancerous rough, scaly skin lesion caused by years of unprotected sun exposure. As you might expect, these lesions most often form on the face, ears, back of the hands, forearms, scalp and neck and are — or should be — routinely removed when found by dermatologists to prevent progression to cancer. The lesions are markers of sun damage and can serve as an early warning system for people at risk of developing cancer somewhere on sun-exposed skin. While the hazard is greatest for people with light skin, blue eyes, freckles, or red hair, having a dark complexion is not a free pass. Tanning, not just burning, is a form of sun damage.”
“Among patients in the Kaiser Permanente study who were younger than 50, those with a diagnosis of actinic keratosis were nearly seven times more likely to develop a skin cancer called squamous cell carcinoma during the decade-long follow-up. The cancer risk was eight times higher among patients older than 50 who had one or more actinic keratosis removed, and the more such lesions these patients had, the more likely they were to develop skin cancer during the follow-up. Furthermore, the older the patient, the sooner cancer was diagnosed after actinic keratosis was found and presumably treated. It took seven to eight years for 10 percent of patients in their 50s with an actinic keratosis to receive a diagnosis of skin cancer, but it took only three to four years for patients in their 70s and one to two years for those in their 80s.”
The preventive measures against sun damage are well-known and not difficult, Brody reported:
“[P]reventing sun damage is easier and cheaper than reversing it and less likely to result in premature wrinkles and scars. Try to schedule your outdoor activities early or late in the day, avoiding the peak sun hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Routinely apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher to exposed skin year-round even on cloudy days, using at least a quarter teaspoon on your face alone. Apply sunscreen half an hour before going out and reapply it every two hours and after being in the water. Modern sunscreens are not greasy or pasty, but they lose effectiveness with time so be sure to check the expiration date. Even if you sit under an umbrella at the beach or in the park, the sun’s reflected rays will hit your skin. Wear a hat with a wide brim, especially important for men who are balding. If you have the means, invest in top-quality sunglasses and clothing, including swimwear, with built-in SPF protection. The darker and heavier the fabric, the better.”
Precautions near and on the water
If you, your loved ones, or friends plan as so many do to spend lots of time relaxing on or near the water — pools, rivers, lakes, or the ocean — be sure everyone, and especially the kids, are up to speed about safety. With the coronavirus pandemic seeming to ease, it may be a great time to ensure youngsters (and grownups) learn to swim, as well as how to deal with water emergencies, say, by knowing CPR. Courses are taught all around at facilities, many of which will be booming with business this summer. If you’re curious about sending your youngster off to summer activities with the pandemic still on, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has revised its guidance on camps for kids, notably as to what their wearing face coverings while active outdoors. (Likely not needed).
Don’t short-shrift water precautions: As the American Red Cross has reported, drowning is a leading cause of death for children.
During the pandemic, pools became a hot commodity and many homeowners installed them. They need to ensure as the weather warms that their pools are safe, secure, and hygienic. It may be a challenge this summer to keep pools clean, with a fire damaging facilities of a major supplier of chlorine.
Don’t fall prey to foodborne illness
A focus on cleanliness, of course, is a five-star idea for outdoor cooking and eating. Federal officials talk about the Big Four steps in keeping everyone healthy at cookouts by being sure to: Clean (wash those hands and surfaces often), Separate (don’t cross-contaminate hands, tools, or surfaces with raw and cooked foods), Cook (be sure foods hit proper temperatures, which can be verified with a food thermometer), and Chill (refrigerate foods promptly and properly). Grill masters may take note of timely government advice on safe and excellent cooking. FYI, bleeding burgers not only sound unappealing, they can be risky.
Raw foods typically don’t do well in summer heat. Just a reminder on the prevalence and seriousness of foodborne illness: The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that each year roughly 1 in 6 Americans (or 48 million people) gets sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die of foodborne diseases.
Watch out for deadly heat and drive sensibly
The list of common-sense seasonal precautions that people should take could be long. But at least two are worth underscoring: Heat can be deadly, especially for the elderly and kids. Climate change has only worsened weather extremes. Be sure to be prepared for sizzling temperatures and high humidity — and in long bouts, especially in this region (the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia).
Here’s another big point to keep in mind in the days ahead: The school year, whether with remote or in-person classes, already is ending for millions of youngsters in the area. That means motorists must step up their vigilance for pedestrians and bicyclists, whether they are vacationing youngsters or tourists visiting our area as part of an expected seasonal crush. Drivers can avoid calamitous consequences by cutting their speed, eliminating senseless distractions, and avoiding driving while intoxicated. Too many of us could boost our well-being if we started to roll back our pandemic imbibing, even when we’re enjoying warm days and nights with family and friends.
In my practice, I see not only the harms that patients suffer while seeking medical services, but also the damage that can be inflicted on them and their loved ones by car, motorcycle, and truck wrecks, as well as by defective and dangerous products and negligent or abusive use of them.
We’re all eager after months of struggles with the pandemic to get out, socialize, and enjoy a brilliant summer, jammed with the joyous experiences and people we have missed for a while now. Here’s hoping that happens for us all — but in safe and healthy ways!