Summertime brings health risks

2013-07-10T16:40:00Z 2013-07-12T11:19:06Z Summertime brings health risksVanessa Renderman vanessa.renderman@nwi.com, 219.933.3244 nwitimes.com

From rabid bats to sunshine, summer abounds with health risks. But staying indoors for the season isn't the only solution to staying safe.

Being outdoors increases the likelihood of interacting with wild animals, often carriers of rabies, said Dr. Stevan Vuckovic, associate medical director for the emergency department and EMS medical director at Franciscan St. Anthony Health hospital in Crown Point.

"Wild animals are the main vector," Vuckovic said.

About four people enter the Crown Point emergency room each year with concerns of rabies, he said.

Often, people try to feed a raccoon and get bitten or find a bat in their house and don't know if they've been exposed.

"Bat wounds are small," Vuckovic said. "You can't see them."

Ideally, the suspected animal is caught, tested and observed. In the meantime, a person can undergo rabies treatment, which involves a series of shots, he said.

People should avoid contact with bats and bat droppings. Even a bat flying around a room can spread rabies, said Dr. Alex Stemer, president of Franciscan Medical Specialists.

A more likely encounter is with mosquitoes, some of which carry the West Nile virus.

"This year, we haven't seen a lot of cases of West Nile," Stemer said.

Prevention is the best protection, by wearing bug repellent and avoiding the outdoors at dawn and dusk, when the insects are most active.

"There's no specific treatment for it," Stemer said.

Symptoms include a rash composed of red dots, fever and headache.

"Only 4 out of 10 get encephalitis symptoms," Stemer said.

State health officials last month confirmed mosquitoes in Adams County tested positive for West Nile virus. Last year, mosquitoes in every Indiana county – except Crawford County – tested positive for the disease.

More than 30 Indiana residents have died from the illness since the first human case in 2002, according to state health officials.

A top summer health concern should be MRSA, Stemer said.

Whether scratching bug bites or exercising in sandals that create blisters, it is essential to cleanse open wounds and apply an antibacterial ointment, he said.

State health officials also caution residents who visit fairs this summer, after four cases of the virus H3N2v were detected in people who had visited the Grant County Agricultural Fair in June. At least two had contact with swine.

H3N2v is a non-human influenza virus that normally circulates in pigs but has infected humans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Human infections of the virus are rare but have most commonly occurred after close proximity to live infected pigs, such as working with them in barns and livestock exhibits at fairs. It is not transmitted by eating pork and pork products, according to health officials.

“Fairs are a great way to get outdoors, have some fun and learn about agriculture,” said state health Commissioner Dr. William VanNess. “If you plan to attend a fair this summer, just be sure to wash your hands frequently and avoid taking food into areas where animals are kept.”

Stemer said the risk for people interacting with pigs is small, and he does not believe it spreads from person to person.

"Until there are reports of further outbreaks, I don't think it's reasonable to tell people to stay away from fairs," he said.

Hot weather alone can be dangerous.

"Luckily, our summer has been very mild," Vuckovic said. "When you get the heat waves, that's when you have to pay special attention to the very old and very young."

Staying in the shade and keeping hydrated are key.

"If you're out in the heat and get a headache, you're not hydrating enough," Vuckovic said.

Water or water mixed with Gatorade are good for hydration. Beer and sugary cola are not, as they dehydrate the body, Vuckovic said.

A high-SPF sun block will help protect the skin. Vuckovic has treated patients who complain of sunburns after slathering on sun tan oil instead of sun block.

"It's not so much the burn, it's the damage," he said. "We're seeing scores of people with malignant melanoma associated with skin exposure."

That doesn't mean staying inside all season.

"Enjoy the outdoors, but do it responsibly," Vuckovic said.

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