Summer health risks: are they for real?

July 20, 2009 by  

summerSummertime is really here. School vacation has already started. And though it’s nice and warm in many parts of the Northern Hemisphere, it can be scorching hot in others. So you want to spend time outdoors and get a little exercise. But what to do in the unbearable heat of the summer? First of all, we are warned of the dangers that come with summer and these are:

  • Sunburns
  • Dehydration
  • Heat strokes
  • Summer infections
  • Insect bites
  • Burns from barbecue and bush fires
  • Lighting strikes

However, despite all the warnings we see, hear and read, people shouldn’t be scared of venturing out and be active in the summertime. According to WebMD, the chances of fatality due to these summer health risks are slim. In fact, the following figures from the National Safety Council give us an idea of the actual risks:

The Danger Lifetime Odds
Death by car accident 1 in 228
Drowning death 1 in 1,081
Bicycle accident death 1 in 4,857
Death by excessive natural heat 1 in 10,643
Death by lightning 1 in 56,439


Traffic accidents

You’d think that because of the favorable weather conditions in summer that there’d be less vehicular accidents. Well, actually it is the nice weather conditions that make more people venture out and travel with the car, that make people drive faster than usual, that make more people drive less carefully. Related to traffic accidents are bicycle accidents. Cycling is a popular summer sport and accidents can lead to head injuries that are fatal due to non-wearing of helmet.


It is not surprising that the risk of drowning ranks second after traffic accidents. Swimming pools, lakes, rivers and the ocean are popular summer destinations.  It is estimated that at least 3,000 people drown in the US each year. Children under 5 drown more often in swimming pools, especially the family pool, rather than in the natural water bodies. More adults drown in the sea due to undertows, strong rip currents, and boating accidents. The U.S. Coast Guard recorded more than 5,700 boating accidents in 2002, causing 4,062 injuries and 750 deaths.

Excessive heat

Heat waves occur sporadically and excessive natural heat can only lead to death as a consequence of dehydration, heat strokes, and exacerbation of underlying chronic conditions such as heart disease and hypertension. This is, however, highly preventable. The key is drink, drink, and drink and stay out of the midday sun.

Summer infections and diseases

There are some infections associated with some, many of which are food-borne or insect-borne. In the US, the West Nile virus is spread by mosquitoes, whereas spoiled meat at the grill leads to food poisoning.

Rare but well-publicized risks

Lightning strikes and shark attacks are summer risks that are very unlikely to happen. However, when they do, they tend to get publicized and cause unnecessary alarm to the public.
According to National Safety Council spokesman John Ulczycki

“The topical rather than the important hazards tend to get the most attention. People may misinterpret or misunderstand where the real risk is.”

So let’s not use all the summer health risks we hear to refrain from being active this summer. We have to take care but we don’t have to be scared.

To put things into perspective….

“… for every one unfortunate who met his end in the jaws of a shark, at least 1,000 drowned; and while 201 people nationwide died of West Nile infection in 2002, car crashes killed nearly 43,000.

Coming next: ways of staying active despite the summer heat.

Ohoto credit: stock.xchng

Newsbreaker in health care: public health emergency due to swine flu in the US

April 26, 2009 by  
Filed under HEALTHCARE

As of Sunday, April 26, 2009, the number of confirmed cases of swine flu in the US has reached 20. In view of the current situation, the federal government has declared a public health emergency, according to major news networks.

However, health officials emphasize that there is no cause for panic. According to the New York Times, the emergency declaration frees government resources to be used toward diagnosing or preventing additional cases, and releases money for more antiviral drugs.

The breakdown of the 20 confirmed cases of swine flu are as follows:

  • 8 in New York
  • 7 in California
  • 2 in Kansas
  • 2 in Texas
  • 1 in Ohio

The swine flu could possibly have come from Mexico where about 1,300 people have been infected and resulted in 80 fatalities.

Canada has also confirmed 4 cases in Nova Scotia. Other countries which have reported suspected but unconfirmed cases are New Zealand, Hong Kong and Spain. Many countries are watching out and are considering about travel restrictions to and from North America. So far, the cases in the US and Canada presented with very mild symptoms and only resulted in one hospitalization. However, the health officials all over the world, coordinated by the World Health Organization, are on alert for a possible pandemic.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has set up a site to inform the public about swine flu:

Swine Influenza (swine flu) is a respiratory disease of pigs caused by type A influenza that regularly cause outbreaks of influenza among pigs. Swine flu viruses do not normally infect humans, however, human infections with swine flu do occur, and cases of human-to-human spread of swine flu viruses has been documented. From December 2005 through February 2009, a total of 12 human infections with swine influenza were reported from 10 states in the United States. Since March 2009, a number of confirmed human cases of a new strain of swine influenza A (H1N1) virus infection in the U.S. and internationally have been identified. An investigation into these cases is ongoing.

Here are some recommendations from the CDC on how to protect yourself from swine flu:

According to the CDC, the symptoms of swine flu are very similar to the seasonal flu and “include fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. Some people have reported diarrhea and vomiting associated with swine flu. In the past, severe illness (pneumonia and respiratory failure) and deaths have been reported with swine flu infection in people. Like seasonal flu, swine flu may cause a worsening of underlying chronic medical conditions.”

Swine flu is mainly transmitted from person to person through coughing and sneezing. It is advisable to stay away from people with flu symptoms. If you experience symptoms, stay at home. If the symptoms worsen, see your doctor.

To learn more about swine flu, check out this podcast with CDC’s Dr. Joe Bresee.

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NOTE: The contents in this blog are for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as medical advice, diagnosis, treatment or a substitute for professional care. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health professional before making changes to any existing treatment or program. Some of the information presented in this blog may already be out of date.