WESTCHESTER COUNTY, N.Y. - Summertime and the living is … risky.
Memorial Day weekend kicks off the unofficial start of summer and that means plenty of outdoor fun awaits – from barbecues and picnics to hiking and swimming. However, outdoor fun can turn tragic if you don’t take care to follow a few precautions.
Peter DeLucia, assistant commissioner for health for the Westchester County Bureau of Public Health, has offered a few tips to help you keep you and yours safe and healthy this summer.
Animals and Insects
Northern Westchester is teeming with wildlife, DeLucia noted, which makes it a special place to live. However, animals and insects can be the source of diseases such as rabies, West Nile virus and Lyme disease.
“When it comes to rabies, you need to simply avoid stray or wild animals,” DeLucia said. “Don’t go over to that stray baby raccoon. If you do get into contact, report it immediately.”
DeLucia said if you do come in contact or are bitten by a stray or wild animal, it’s important to try to keep the animal around for rabies testing. Otherwise, he said, you’ll need to go through a rabies treatment as a precaution.
In the summer, DeLucia notes, animal danger doesn’t always remain outdoors.
“On warm summer nights, we can leave windows open,” he said. “If a bat gets into your house, do not shoo it outside. All bats are considered rabid, so you need to report to the health department so it can be caught and tested. Otherwise, you’d have to be recommended for treatment.”
Mosquitos carry a variety of diseases, including West Nile, so DeLucia said to keep plenty of insect repellent on hand.
“Remove standing or stagnant water on your property” because mosquitos are “container breeders,” he said.
Lyme disease-spreading deer ticks are another summertime danger. DeLucia said the best way to keep ticks away is by using an insect repellant that contains DEET and by dressing appropriately. When hiking, wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants with the pant leg tucked into your socks.
When coming in from the outdoors, especially if you’ve been in the long grass or the woods, inspect yourself and your kids for ticks, which are black and about the size of a poppy seed. Wearing light-colored clothes will make it easier to spot them. Remove the ones that have already embedded themselves in the skin carefully by the head with tweezers.
Memorial Day is traditionally one of the biggest days of the year backyard barbecuing, not to mention picnics in the park. Care should be taken to avoid food-borne illness.
DeLucia said if you are packing a cooler, make sure it is stocked with ice to keep raw food cold. He notes that even salads that contain mayonnaise must be kept cold. After the cooler is packed, keep it out of the sun. Place it in the shade.
“Don’t keep food out of the table for more than hour,” DeLucia cautioned. “When in doubt – throw it out.”
Hamburgers and chicken are two of more popular grilling choices for Memorial Day feasts. However, they must be cooked thoroughly to keep bacteria such as E. coli and salmonella at bay. DeLucia advises investing in a food thermometer to make sure hamburgers are cooked to 158 degrees and chicken to 165 degrees.
In the Northeast, Memorial Day weekend is the traditional time when homeowners open their backyard pools.
“The most important thing is to never leave a child alone by the pool,” DeLucia said. The presence of floatation devices in the pool should not be cause for you to relax, he added.
“Flotation devices are for fun – they are not safety devices,” DeLucia said. “People have been known to drown even when they’re wearing lifejackets.”
Finally, make sure your pool water has the right chemical balance to prevent waterborne illness. The pool industry recommends that chlorine levels be kept between 1 and 3 ppm (parts per million) and the water’s pH level be kept between 7.2 and 7.8. Not only is the human body most comfortable in those pH ranges, chlorine’s bacteria-killing power is most effective in those ranges as well. Chlorine and pH measuring devices are available at most pool-supply stores.
For more information, visit the county website.