- The Washington Times - Monday, July 14, 2003

Think “summer,” and images of sun-streaked beaches and convertibles with their tops down come to mind.

By mid-July, those glorious visions could be shoved aside by a procession of bug bites, sunburns and bouts with food poisoning. First aid, summer-style, can smooth away these bumps in the season’s road.

Dr. Ann Marie Gordon, an internist with the Washington Hospital Center, says, “[Summers] usher in health hazards ranging from bee stings to lightning strikes.”

Dr. Gordon says snake bites also can occur, but Washington metro dwellers are far more likely to feel the sting of a bug, not a snake. Bites from bees, yellow jackets, wasps and fire ants can cause pain, swelling and redness around the sting site, she says.

Whoever attends to the bitten person should not squeeze the stinger or pull it out, Dr. Gordon advises.

“That can make the reaction a whole lot worse … or increase the venom getting in,” she says.

Instead, the stinger should be scrapped off the skin using the edge of a dull knife. Then, the area should be disinfected and kept clean. An over-the-counter antibiotic can be helpful. The site also can be iced to reduce the chances of swelling. Anti-swelling drugs such a ibuprofen can help toward that end, she says.

Those with an allergic reaction to insect venoms might respond more dramatically to a single sting. An allergic reaction could involve other parts of the body or the entire body reacting to the bite, she says, not just the area of the sting.

“General first aid is very important in situations like this,” she says.

An emergency room stop may be in order if the bug bite induces hives and itching away from the site of the bite. Other symptoms typical of an allergic reaction include swelling of the tongue or tightening of the chest.

Dr. Sherry Weinstein-Mayer, internal medicine chief with Kaiser Permanente’s Baltimore region, says, “People tend to forget about spider bites. … They can be very painful, and they sometimes even need to be lanced.”

A spider bite differentiates itself from other bites by its scablike healing process. Dr. Weinstein-Mayer suggests washing the bite with soap and water to prevent infection and applying cold compresses to relieve pain.

Such bites invite scratching, so she suggests putting a bandage over the bite to prevent that and stop unintentional contact.

Dr. Weinstein-Mayer says water may be the most important item to include in a summer first aid kit.

“It’s very easy to get into heat exhaustion. Heat stroke can be fatal,” she says. “People don’t realize they’re getting dehydrated until they’re fairly far into it.”

One of the sneakiest conditions to threaten our collective summer health is heat illness, agrees Dr. Terry Adirim, attending physician at the Children’s National Medical Center.

“If you’re exerting yourself, you can become dehydrated,” Dr. Adirim says. “You put yourself at risk for heat stroke, the more severe form of heat illness.”

Symptoms can include dizziness, thirst, unclear thinking, fatigue and headache. She suggests drinking fluids before, during and after a physical activity.

Should someone have some of the above symptoms, he or she should be taken to a shaded area or air-conditioned space. The victim should be given something to drink, preferably water or a sports beverage. Alcohol and caffeinated drinks won’t be nearly as effective because both work on the kidneys and make us urinate and therefore lose water, she says.

Other necessities in a personal first aid kit range from the obvious — gauze, bandages and disinfectants — to bug repellent. West Nile virus, carried by mosquitoes, could be a factor this season, particularly with all the rain and standing water around the region, Dr. Weinstein-Mayer says.

Other good first aid items, Dr. Weinstein-Mayer says, are ice packs that do not turn cold until activated. A quick rush of cold pressure can alleviate the pain of sprains, bumps and bruises, she says.

Sunburn is a common summer affliction, and the worst should be treated professionally. A significant sunburn won’t just be painful, but also will raise blisters on the affected skin.

Products containing aloe can prove soothing, she says.

Food poisoning is another summer problem, as midday cookouts leave food — such as temperature-sensitive mayonnaise and meat products — vulnerable.

Such cases typically cause diarrhea and abdominal pain and fade within 24 hours, she says.

“The key is keeping up with the fluids. They should absolutely not eat solid food; it aggravates it,” she says. Caffeine and alcohol also stimulate the digestive tract and are not suggested as good liquids for those battling diarrhea.

Some food poisoning cases, like those caused by the salmonella virus, may not fade so quickly and could require medical attention, she warns.

“Some people get severely ill from it,” she says.

Perhaps the deadliest health problem in the summer involves a random lighting strike. A lighting strike “can literally make your heart stop,” she says.

CPR — cardiopulmonary resuscitation — can mean the difference between life and death. CPR students learn how to open a person’s airway to make sure it isn’t blocked, then perform coordinated breathing and chest compressions.

Many organizations, including the American Red Cross, offer training in CPR.

Jenny Brennan, public support coordinator for the Arlington Red Cross, says her chapter offers a variety of first aid classes, including sessions aimed at a favorite dog or cat.

The pet first aid classes, created along with the Humane Society, help people remove a dangerous object from a pet’s mouth, set an injured leg or paw and perform pet CPR. The information is aimed chiefly at dogs and cats, but treatment for more exotic creatures such as pigs also is discussed.

Ms. Brennan says a quick visit to the Red Cross Web site, at www.arlingtonredcross.org, reveals a long list of classes touching upon pet care, water safety and general first aid.

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