Ways to avoid getting sick while enjoying summer

As Michigan residents enjoy camping, swimming and eating fresh, home-grown food this summer, health officials are reminding everyone to reduce their risk of exposure to bacteria and viruses that can cause illness.

The Dickinson-Iron District Health Department is kicking off a month-long awareness campaign this week to inform local residents about what they can do to prevent illness and what the health department is doing to protect the health of Dickinson and Iron County residents and visitors.

“Be aware of potential infection from various sources during the summer months, but do not let it keep you from enjoying the many activities that the counties have to offer for fun and recreation,” said Daren Deyaert, health officer. “You can protect yourself and your family by taking special precautions.”

Residents should be aware of and protect themselves from illnesses such as Lyme disease, rabies and West Nile virus —

— Lyme disease is a bacterial infection resulting from the bite of an infected deer tick. Early symptoms may include a distinctive rash at the site of the tick bite, fever, headache, fatigue, eye symptoms and muscle/joint pain. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Service’s website has a wealth of information on Lyme disease and prevention strategies. These include wearing light, long clothing that allows ticks to be spotted more easily; staying on trails and groomed paths in wooded and tall, grassy areas; using appropriate repellants; and checking skin for ticks when coming indoors from areas where ticks are likely to reside. It takes about 24 to 48 hours of attachment for a tick to transmit the bacterial infection, so checking daily can be very effective at preventing disease.

— Rabies and West Nile virus are both viral infections. Rabies is contracted through a bite or scratch from an infected animal. It also can be transmitted if saliva from an infected animal gets into an open wound or into a person’s eyes, nose, or mouth. In Michigan, rabies has been reported most often in bats. Once a person develops symptoms of rabies, it is almost universally fatal, so reducing exposure is crucial. Make sure any cat or dog in the home is up to date with its rabies vaccination and avoid contact with unfamiliar or stray and wild animals. Anyone believed to have been exposed should contact a health care provider or the health department. Don’t wait to seek treatment, as highly effective preventative treatment is available.

West Nile virus is spread to humans primarily by the bite of an infected mosquito. A mosquito becomes infected by biting a bird that carries the virus. Most people infected with West Nile virus either have no symptoms or experience mild illness, such as fever, headache and body aches. Again, avoidance is important. Strategies to avoid exposure include wearing long, protective clothing, using appropriate repellants, getting rid of standing water in your yard when feasible and staying indoors when mosquitoes are very active. If symptoms seem to develop, contact a health care provider.

The other summer illness hazard can come from consuming contaminated food and beverages. Some precautions against foodborne illness are —

— When carrying food to another location, keep it cold to minimize bacterial growth. Cold food should be held at or below 40°F. Pack food right from the refrigerator into the cooler immediately before leaving home.

— When using a cooler, keep it out of the direct sun by placing it in the shade or shelter. Avoid opening the lid too often, which lets cold air out and warm air in.

— Be sure there are plenty of clean utensils and platters. To prevent foodborne illness, don’t use the same platter and utensils for raw and cooked meat and poultry. Harmful bacteria present in raw meat and poultry and their juices can contaminate safely cooked food.

For more information about infectious disease prevention and services, call the health department at 906-779-7239 or 906-265-4172.

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