Ah summer! Who doesn’t love long days of backyard barbecues and walks on the beach? If you’re like us, you don’t want to spend even one of those days either sick or injured—or let’s face it—worrying about getting sick or injured. So here’s our guide to summer hazards, including ones that you can stop worrying about because your chances of encountering them are just about nil (like running into a shark or a brain-eating amoeba) to the legitimately worrisome (hello, foodborne illness and tick bites). Here’s how to stay safe, happy, and worry free all summer long.
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Recreational water illnesses (RWI)
Stats: RWI cases have increased substantially over the last two decades—as much as 200%.
Risks: All public swimming areas can harbor bacteria that cause gastrointestinal, skin, ear, respiratory, eye, neurologic, and wound infections. The most common: diarrhea. Accidentally swallowing water that’s been contaminated with feces boosts your risk; that’s why public pools ask you to shower before swimming.
Should you worry?: Anyone who swallows contaminated water can catch a RWI. Bacteria can live for days, even in properly chlorinated pools. As for those brain-eating amoebas you’ve heard about in the news, no need for alarm—there were just 31 infections reported in the United States between 2003 and 2012.
Stats: Drowning ranks fifth among the leading causes of unintentional injury death in the United States, with most happening on beaches and boats.
Risks: Being unable to swim is your top risk factor. In 2010, 88% of people who drowned in a boating accident were not wearing life jackets. Drinking alcohol also raises your risk.
Should you worry?: Just be smart. If you haven’t already learned to swim, take lessons. When boating, always wear a life jacket, and leave the booze until you’re done in the water for the day.
Stats: The National Safety Council says your chances of death by shark attack are approximately 1 in 3.7 million. There were 47 shark attacks in the United States in 2013.
Risks: Swimming near sandbars and steep drop-offs, in deep water, or during twilight hours—sharks like these conditions.
Should you worry?: No, but if a lifeguard tells you there’s a shark nearby or you spot one yourself, then get out of the water immediately.
Stats: The odds of being struck by lightning in any given year are 1 in 500,000.
Risks: People who work outside are more likely to get struck by lightning—more than a third of deaths occur on farms.
Should you worry?: Probably not, but when you see thunderstorms in the forecast, use common sense: don’t start an 18-hole game of golf or plan a day at the pool. When thunder begins to roar, go inside as soon as possible.
Stats: Each year, 1 in 6 Americans (48 million) contract food poisoning. Of those, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die.
Risks: Food poisoning peaks in the summer months when warmer temperatures cause foodborne bacteria to flourish (they grow fastest at temperatures between 90 and 100 degrees).
Should you worry?: Food poisoning is preventable. Cook your meats thoroughly and don’t cross-contaminate. When packing a cooler, for instance, wrap raw meats securely to ensure their juices don’t touch any other edibles. As for leftovers? Any food that’s been unrefrigerated for more than two hours should be tossed.
Stats: In the month around Independence Day, 200 people on average go to the emergency room every day with fireworks-related injuries, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Risks: Firecrackers that explode into the air aren’t the only types of fireworks that can injure you severely. In 2012, sparklers—which burn at 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit, same as a blowtorch—accounted for 12% of fireworks injuries. Most fireworks injuries are to the hands, fingers, and face.
Should you worry?: Most fireworks are legal in 42 states, but that doesn’t mean they’re safe. Your best bet: go to a professional fireworks display instead.
Stats: In a CDC report, more than a third of the American population reported having a sunburn in the previous year.
Risks: Regardless of skin tone, anyone can get sunburned. People who have fair skin, live at high altitudes, or take certain medications are at increased risk.
Should you worry?: Yes. Getting a sunburn is a big deal, especially if the burn blisters. Protect yourself with sunscreen (find the best one for you), stay in the shade during midday hours, and wear a wide-brimmed hat. You should also follow these golden rules of sun protection.
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Stats: Between 1999 and 2012, an average of 2,648 West Nile cases were reported to the CDC each year.
Risks: In 2013, all 48 contiguous states and the District of Columbia had confirmed cases of West Nile, but Midwestern and Southern states had higher rates of incidence.
Should you worry?: No. Most people infected by West Nile experience minor symptoms such as headache and fever. In less than 1% of people who contract it, the virus causes a serious neurological infection that could include inflammation of the brain and surrounding membranes. If you’re older than 50 or have a weakened immune system, then you’re more likely to develop a severe infection.
Stats: The CDC estimates that about 300,000 Americans (one in 1,000) are diagnosed with Lyme disease annually.
Risks: Living in Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Virginia, or Wisconsin may also increase your risk of contracting Lyme. In 2012, 95% of Lyme cases were reported from those 13 states.
Should you worry?: Better safe than sorry. Wear long sleeves and pants in bushy or wooded areas and apply an insect repellent with a 20% or higher concentration of DEET. Then, inspect yourself thoroughly when you get home. Remember: deer ticks can be as small as the head of a pin.
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Stats: In 2012, more traffic deaths occurred in June, July, and August than any other time of the year.
Risks: When school’s out, more teens drive, and more families go on vacation. And with more cars on the road, accidents tick up. There are other factors, too: if your tires are worn out, then hot weather can cause the air inside them to expand, which can lead to a blowout, and construction zones increase likelihood of a crash.
Should you worry?: You shouldn’t cancel your summer getaway for fear of a crash. Buckle up, eliminate distractions (no texting!), and obey the speed limit. Prep for a long drive with a trip to the mechanic to ensure that all your car’s major systems are in good shape.
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Carcinogens from grilling
Stats: Eating charred meat often may increase your risk of pancreatic cancer by up to 60%, and postmenopausal women who consumed the most grilled, barbecued, or smoked meat over their lifetimes may have a 47% increased risk of breast cancer.
Risks: Grilling meat over an open flame can cause two carcinogens to form: heterocyclic amine (HCA) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).
Should you worry?: Maybe. Research shows that your cancer risk increases the most if you eat grilled meat very frequently over a period of several years. You’re probably okay if you grill a couple times a week during the summer. Reduce your exposure with these six healthy-grilling strategies.