California’s epic rains this past winter brought an abundance of much-needed water to communities everywhere and created a Sierra snow pack that broke 40-year records. As the snow melts, currents are stronger in California rivers and streams – raising risks for water play. Dr. James Cruz, chief medical officer for Blue Shield of California Promise Health Plan, offers timely tips for staying safe in the sun, heat, and water this summer.
How can people protect against heat stroke and other heat-related illnesses in the hot weather predicted for this summer?
There are two simple ways – keep hydrated and stay cool. Every year in America there are more than 67,000 emergency room visits and over 9,000 hospitalizations due to heat and heat-related illnesses. These are preventable! Keep reusable water flasks with cool water in your car, backpack, or picnic basket to prevent dehydration and heat stroke. Drink water often when outside, especially when exercising. Carry fruits packed with juice, like sliced oranges, watermelon, or grapes. Pack a small cooler with ice and cold, damp washcloths to cool yourself and your children. Seek shade when possible.
What steps should people take to protect themselves from the sun?
Even on cloudy summer days, it’s important to protect against sun damage and skin cancer. Adults and children of all ages - including babies and toddlers - should wear a hat, sunglasses, and use sunscreen liberally when in the sun, especially around water and sand, which reflect light and intensify the sun’s effect, or at high altitudes where ultraviolet (UV) exposure is high because of the thinner atmosphere.
Dermatologists recommend using sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30, which blocks about 97% of harmful rays. Apply a thick layer on skin 20 minutes before going outside and add layers every two or three hours. For babies and toddlers, use sunscreen especially designed for their age. Also, check local UV ratings at sites like this one from the Environmental Protection Agency.
Are water levels in lakes and rivers a greater danger this summer than in previous years? In my opinion, yes. There are three key safety issues: water level, water temperature, and water currents. Water levels will be higher, water temperature will be much colder due to the snowmelt, and currents will be much stronger. Water safety around rivers, streams and canals is increasingly important due to fast moving, icy currents that can drown even excellent swimmers. Pay attention to posted warning signs. And make sure all children and adults in your family know how to swim. If they don’t, sign them up soon for swimming lessons. For young children not yet swim-trained, keep them within arm’s reach at all times when near water. If you’re on a boat, wear a life vest.
Mosquitoes are in the news. What should people know about them this summer?
Because of the extra snow melt, this summer’s mosquito population is expected to explode and could potentially increase rates of various diseases such as West Nile virus or malaria, which they transmit when they bite. It’s important to consistently use mosquito and insect repellant when going outside. And beware of standing water! It’s a fertile breeding ground for mosquitoes, so avoid it in parks, hiking trails, or other outdoor areas.
Summer is a wonderful time to be out and about with friends and family in California or on vacation elsewhere. With simple, thoughtful preparations, you can safely enjoy these special months wherever you are.