MHS experts offers summer advice from fighting bugs to knowing where to go for medical help
Warmer weather naturally draws more people to pools, lakes, rivers and the ocean. Keep an eye on each other, especially children. Despite soaking in water, people can become dehydrated. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Charles Santamaria)
summer is here, and military families are taking advantage of the warm weather and vacation schedules to spend some well-earned time together. But you need to keep in mind that health hazards are lurking out there. Whether it’s fighting bugs or keeping from getting sunburned, the right precautions can help make sure your summer vacation doesn’t turn into a summer headache.
One of the first areas to consider is keeping insects, particularly mosquitoes, at bay. And that starts with getting rid of the threat before those little suckers have a chance to make a meal out of you and your loved ones.
“My watch word is eliminate,” said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Jeremy Wilkinson, chief of public health at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. “Eliminate the places where mosquitoes can breed and grow, and eliminate the opportunity for them to bite you.”
Wilkinson advised tipping and tossing standing water from containers, such as tires, buckets and flower pots. If the water can’t be eliminated, treat it with a mosquito-specific, environmentally friendly larvicide. Getting rid of neighborhood litter and debris and managing vegetation reduce the number of hiding places for mosquitoes.
Keeping mosquitoes from biting you is also key in the fight. Wear loose-fitting, light-colored long-sleeved shirts and pants and use insect repellent containing DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus or IR 3535 as the active ingredient, carefully following all label directions. Make sure doors and window screens are in good shape to keep mosquitoes out in the first place.
Diseases, such as Zika, West Nile and even Chikungunya are all concerns. With Zika raising so many alarms these days, Wilkinson advised those pregnant or trying to get pregnant not travel to Zika-infested areas. “But if you do go and you don’t exhibit any symptoms of Zika, wait eight weeks before trying to become pregnant or engaging in sex that involves exchanging bodily fluids. If you do show signs of Zika, men need to wait at least six months after symptoms start, and women need to wait at least eight weeks,” he said. More information is available on the Military Health System’s website.
Speaking of travel, military doctors recommend, no matter where you go, you should have on hand military identification cards for you and every eligible member of your family.
“If you end up at a hospital, it makes it a lot easier for everyone, especially when you’re trying to get authorizations for care far from your regular military treatment facility,” said Army Col. Timothy Barron, an emergency medicine doctor at Fort Belvoir. “If the children are traveling to a grandparent’s place, they really should have their IDs. It really makes a difference.” More information about traveling with TRICARE is available on the TRICARE website.
Barron also said too much sun is a common occurrence during the summer. Even a simple sunburn can debilitate you and pave the way for secondary infections.
“Make sure you wear a hat, sunblock and light-colored clothing to reduce your chance of getting burned,” said Barron. “And don’t think that sunburn is a good base for a tan.”
Other common risks during summer vacations are exposure to poisonous plants, such as poison ivy. Learn what plants in your area are trouble, and avoid contact with them.
Water safety is another important thing to keep in mind. Barron said the warmer weather naturally draws more people to pools, lakes, rivers and the ocean. Keep an eye on each other, especially children. He said despite soaking in water, people can become dehydrated. “Even though you’re at the beach and having a great time, you still have to stay hydrated. That water is not being absorbed through the skin. You have to drink fluids.”
He recommends drinking at least two liters of water throughout the day. Or, a better rule of thumb might be the color of your urine. If it’s clear, you’re getting enough to drink. But more color in urine is a sign you’re not getting enough fluids.
Barron said the summer also brings more activity, and that can mean sports-related injuries. “Prepare your body as if you’re an athlete. Wear proper sneakers, proper safety equipment, and stretch and warm up a bit,” he said.
You’ve taken all the precautions, but somebody still ends up sick. And, of course, it happens during your summer vacation, far away from home. TRICARE beneficiaries have a tool they can use out on the road this summer (or any season): the Nurse Advice Line. By calling 1-800-TRICARE (874-2273) and selecting option 1, patients talk directly with a nurse who evaluates their conditions and gives advice ranging from self-care to an immediate emergency room visit, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“We have a lot of young parents who are away from their own families, and they don’t have anyone to go to for advice,” said Regina Julian, chief of primary care for the Defense Health Agency. “Being on the road for summer vacations and away from your usual hospital or clinic makes things even more problematic. Our nurses use evidence-based, best medical practices to evaluate patients and determine the best method of care. We’ll also help people find an urgent care center, if needed. We give parents peace of mind.”
The experts agree: have fun but be careful during this summer’s vacation season.