Health: While enjoying the wilderness this summer, follow these tips to keep safe
If you’re a nature lover, your idea of a great vacation might be camping in the wilderness rather than relaxing on the beach. Summertime is the perfect season for a family camping trip, but the great outdoors isn’t without its hazards. Follow these tips to keep you and your family safe.
Before you embark on your camping trip, be sure to organize a first aid kit for any bumps, bruises, and bug bites. Include bandages, antiseptic wipes, gauze pads, tweezers, pain relievers, insect-sting relief, and allergy medication.
“Along with your first aid kit, be sure to pack all prescription medications, emergency contact information, as well as information on any health conditions or allergies you and your family might have in case of an emergency,” Geisinger pediatrician Brooke Dismukes says.
Food and water
In terms of food options, some of the quick and convenient options that don’t need to be kept at a certain temperature include granola bars, canned foods, dried fruit, and nuts. If you’re cooking burgers or other raw meats, use a food thermometer to make sure they reach 160 degrees before eating.
If you’re in a situation where you have to drink water from the land, make sure to take the proper precautions; contaminated water can cause diarrhea, vomiting, and cramps. Just because water is clear doesn’t mean it’s safe to drink. Some of the ways to purify water include:
- Boiling it for one minute, or about three minutes if you’re at an altitude of about 6,500 or higher;
- Dropping iodine or chlorine tablets into it;
- Running it through a filter specifically made for camping/hiking purposes.
“But make sure you’re familiar with the condition of the water where you’re going to camp, since some methods of purifying water are more effective than others, depending on what exactly is in the water,” Dismukes says.
Camping is a great opportunity for adults to get their recommended two-and-a-half hours of exercise per week, and for kids to get their recommended one hour a day.
“Make sure to use the buddy system, especially for swimming and hiking, and try to familiarize yourself with the environment so you’re aware of any poisonous plants, waterfalls, or other grueling terrain you might encounter,” Dismukes says.
Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas caused by the incomplete combustion of carbon-based fuels. Many campers, including young children, have tragically died in their sleep after misguidedly bringing propane- or charcoal-based stoves into their tents to provide heat. What they didn’t know is that those stoves emitted carbon dioxide until it reached a fatal level.
“If you’re anticipating cold nights, you should first consider dressing in layers, as well as sleeping bags and blankets designed for the outdoors and cold weather,” Dismukes says.
Keep the scavenging, and potentially dangerous, animals away from your campsite by keeping it clean. You don’t want raccoons, coyotes, or possibly even bears to make their way to your tent because they smell food.
Traveling to a site that has bears? You probably don’t have too much to worry about; bears rarely approach humans. If you do find yourself face-to-face with a bear, make a lot of noise to scare it off. If you’re with other people, stand close together; don’t surround the bear.
“If you do encounter a wild animal, remember that they’re always a risk for rabies,” says Dismukes. “It’s best to keep your distance.”
Mosquitoes and ticks are two of the more common insects you’re likely to encounter in the outdoors. Use bug spray (ones that contain 30-percent DEET are generally the most effective), and consider wearing long sleeves and pants if it isn’t too hot. Repellants should not be used on clothing that children are likely to chew or suck. Another option is permethrin-treated clothing, but remember that permethrin should not be sprayed on the skin. Also, make sure to check your body for ticks every day.
You’re probably going to be spending most, if not all, of your time outdoors during your camping trip, so that means it’s important to protect yourself from the sun. Use sunscreen that protects you against UVA and UVB rays, and use a lip balm that is at least SPF15. Reapply your sunscreen every two hours and after swimming.
And remember, just because it’s cloudy doesn’t mean you’re safe from the sun; the UV rays still come through.
Brooke Dismukes, MD, is a pediatrician with Geisinger Lewistown.