School is out and vacations are in full swing. Spending time on the beach or visiting relatives can be the highlight of the year, until someone comes down with the flu. Summer sicknesses have a tendency to show up at the most inopportune moments and ruin what would be great family memories. On the bright side though, it only takes a little bit of information to help you understand how to avoid the common summer viruses and protect yourself from catching what goes around.
Melanoma (skin cancer)
Sunscreen is greasy and time-consuming when the water calls your name on a hot summer day, but skipping this important step can save your skin, literally. Melanoma is a skin cancer caused by excessive burning of the skin leading to mutations during cell re-growth. The rapidly multiplying cells turn into malignant tumors that resemble moles. Unfortunately for some people, this cancer is more common with those genetically predisposed to it. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, melanoma kills about 8,800 people in the United States each year.
The National Cancer Institute lists several genetic traits that are common among those who are at a greater risk of melanoma. Typically, those with fair skin, red hair, freckling, and a high number of moles are at highest risk of getting this cancer, particularly if they have been exposed to the sun too long and become severely burned.
Preventing melanoma cancer is simple enough as outlined by the Mayo Clinic. For one thing, they suggest you stay out of the sun during the middle of the day (10 a.m. and 4 p.m.) when the sun’s rays are strongest. Generally it’s best to wear sunscreen year-round but particularly when you expect prolonged exposure to the sun. Pay particular attention to ears, fingers, and the back of your neck as these areas are often overlooked. Be careful wearing clothing that allows much sun to get through as it increases exposure.
This summer virus has been making headlines lately as the Texas Health Department tested mosquitoes that came back positive for West Nile virus (WNV) in three counties (Montgomery, Fort Bend, and Brazoria). Thankfully no human cases have been reported in these areas, but positive results for the virus have been springing up across the nation as the season approaches.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website has comprehensive information on the mosquito-borne disease. Although symptoms can be fairly severe, there is no known treatment for WNV. Typically the symptoms pass within a few days to a few weeks of infection. Contrary to popular belief, WNV cannot be spread by contact. Only if the infection enters the bloodstream does the virus spread.
People 50 or older are more susceptible to severe symptoms and should be particularly careful to avoid mosquito bites. Wearing repellant and staying indoors can greatly reduce the risk of bites as well. Also, avoid areas that are moist or have still water supplies nearby that are ripe for mosquito breeding.
When vacationing to other countries, the danger for picking up a foreign disease increases exponentially. Foreign diseases such as Cholera, Dengue, Malaria, and the measles are more often picked up during this season because prevention often gets lost in the excitement of travel. There are three things every international traveler should prepare for in advance to protect health.
First of all, make sure all your vaccines are up-to-date and check which ones are recommended for your destination; some countries actually require certain vaccines prior to entry. Research which are the most common diseases for the region as well and educate yourself on the symptoms so you can spot them right away should you catch the local viruses. Lastly, make sure to locate a good hospital nearby where you are visiting in case of an emergency. Keep your insurance handy too for this purpose.
Flu and cold
Although more commonly occurring in the spring or fall, flues and colds take on a new twist when caught in the summer. Often arising unexpectedly, summer colds can drag on for up to weeks at a time. The reason for this is because the warmer climate causes the bacteria Enterovirus to join forces with the regular viruses that cause colds, making the combined symptoms complicated and enduring.
In addition to the extra virus-boost, MSNBC reports that re-circulated air (from air conditioning) causes the lining in your nasal passages to dry out and lowers the ability of your nose to block bacteria from entering.
Along with the typically suggested hand-washing regime, the article mentions hydration, sleep, and a balanced diet as a way to combat infection. Furthermore, those who have been relatively inactive over the winter should gradually adjust to higher activity levels as your immune system might be too weak to support your body.