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July 1, 2009 > Summer's outdoor fun brings health risks, too

Summer's outdoor fun brings health risks, too

Physician Offers Tips on How to Prevent MRSA Infection

Now that summer's here, most people are spending more time outdoors. Barbeques, picnics, hiking and camping are fun, but they can also expose kids and adults to greater health risks.


Spotting the 'super bug'

One common summertime problem is skin infection, which occurs when bacteria gets into the body through a cut or other opening in the skin. Staph, or staphylococcus aureus, is a highly infectious strain of bacteria that is the most frequent cause of skin infections. A staph infection is usually minor and doesn't require special treatment. However, it can sometimes lead to a more severe problem, such as an infected wound, bloodstream infection or pneumonia. In extreme cases, the condition can become life-threatening.

In the past, when treatment has been required, staph infections were usually quelled by one of the common antibiotics, such as penicillin. Over the years, however, a type of staph has evolved that resists the usual medications. Called Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, this difficult-to-treat bacterium also has health experts worried because it has begun occurring in otherwise healthy people in the community. Moreover, it's not uncommon for people to mistake what's called community-associated MRSA for something else.

"We're treating more MRSA infections than we used to, especially during the summer," says Frank Zeidan, M.D., medical director of Washington Urgent Care, a walk-in clinic that is part of the Washington Hospital Healthcare System. "It's not unusual for people to come in complaining of a spider bite that, instead, turns out to be MRSA."

This mistake is understandable since the early symptoms of MRSA are similar to a spider bite: redness, heat, and pain at the site of the infection, sometimes accompanied by pus or other drainage. The person may also have a fever. If diagnosed quickly, the MRSA infection can usually be treated with a powerful antibiotic.

"The 'take-home' message about MRSA is that it's important to get prompt medical treatment," explains Dr. Zeidan. "In addition, to help avoid such an infection in the first place, people should practice good hygiene and wound care."

Follow these guidelines to help prevent MRSA:
* Wash your hands often with warm water and soap, or use an alcohol-based hand gel containing at least 60 percent alcohol.
* Keep cuts and scrapes clean and covered until they heal.
* Avoid contact with the wounds or bandages of others.
* Avoid sharing towels, razors, clothing and athletic equipment.


Caring for bones and joints

With people enjoying outdoor activities like skateboarding, baseball and water sports, Dr. Zeidan says the clinic is also treating more patients with bone, joint or muscular injuries.

"The key with a muscle or joint strain or sprain is to have it checked out as soon as possible so you can help keep the injury from developing into something worse," he recommends.

According to the American College of Sports Medicine, when you experience a strain or sprain, you should follow the "PRICE" principle to limit the amount of swelling and improve healing:
P = Protect an injured joint or muscle by using splints, pads and/or crutches, especially in the case of more severe sprains or strains.
R = Restrict activity, usually for 48 hours to 72 hours, so the healing process can begin.
I = Ice should be applied to the injury for 15 minutes to 20 minutes every hour to hour and a half.
C = Compression, such as an elastic bandage, should be kept on between icing.
E = Elevate an injured arm or leg to minimize swelling.


More summertime health risks

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control recommends you also watch for these common health-related summertime issues:
Sun and Heat -- Avoid overexposure to summer heat by drinking plenty of water or other non-alcoholic beverages; wearing lightweight, loose-fitting, clothes that are light in color; and reducing strenuous activities or limiting them to the cooler parts of the day.

"Most skin cancers worldwide are related to excessive sun exposure. This risk can be decreased by avoiding exposure to the sun especially during mid-day hours, between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.," states Dr. Zeidan. "Also, you should apply sunscreen to dry skin at least 20 minutes prior to exposure and every two hours after that."

Water Safety -- Follow these common-sense precautions for safe summer fun in the water:
* An adult should always supervise young children while they are swimming, playing or bathing in water.
* Never swim alone or in an unsupervised location.
* Never drink alcohol before or while swimming, boating or water skiing.
* Learn to swim.
* If you have a pool, maintain it properly to prevent the spread of infectious diseases. Never swallow pool, lake or river water.

"Drowning is the leading cause of accidental death among American children under one year of age," Dr. Zeidan says. "You should exercise extreme vigilance when children are swimming or playing or bathing in water. It only takes a few seconds and a few inches of water for a small child to drown."


Washington Urgent Care

Located in the Washington West building next to Washington Hospital, the urgent care clinic treats minor emergencies and illnesses and provides care for other common medical needs without requiring an appointment. A convenient, cost-effective alternative to going to a hospital emergency room, Washington Urgent Care is open seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. For more information, call (510) 608-6174 or visit www.whhs.com. For more information on summer safety, visit www.cdc.gov.

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