With temperatures flying into the 80s and 90s, humidity creeping oppressively upward, and the sun flexing its muscles as it beats down relentlessly, there is no question that summer has arrived in earnest. While the Fourth of July has come and gone, there are still a lot of warm days left for those who love summer to enjoy.
And what better place to while away a summer day than the beach?
Although I live in a seacoast town and consider myself pretty well versed in potential seaside snafus such as sunburns and riptides, a recent Fox News article discussing so-called “beach bummers” caught my eye.
Most interesting to me is that media coverage of these potential dangers is minimal when compared to sun exposure and shark attacks … and contemplation of who the intended audience is.
Anyway, here are five beach dangers that might have slipped past you.
1. Food Poisoning
A bacterium called staphylococcus rapidly grows on mayonnaise, for example, that’s been left in the heat for too long. In an hour, this bacterium can attack your food and within four hours, it can cause severe vomiting and diarrhea, according to Dr. David A. Farcy, director of Emergency Department Critical Care at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami, Florida. To ensure your snacks and meals are safe, bring your food in a well-insulated cooler and pack plenty of ice.
I have a tendency to just avoid anything with mayonnaise on general principle when picnicking for a day. It just doesn’t seem worth the risk.
I had salmonella poisoning once, so I’m actually kind of paranoid about this, but sometimes the little things slip by you.
My younger daughter, a notoriously picky eater, had a summer camp field trip one day last week, and I sent her with a pizza Lunchable (and by confessing that am effectively removing my candidacy for mother …
… of the year). After we’d gotten home, she decided to eat it as a snack … but changed her mind when she saw that the shredded cheese had melted and reformed into a semi-solid ball. The processed ball of cheese actually bounced when dropped on the table. Ew.
2. Unprotected Feet or Hands
Last year, public health officials scrambled to tackle a hookworm problem along a stretch of Miami Beach. Hookworm infection is spread via infected stray cats or dogs that use the sand to cover their feces. Dr. Farcy says the parasite can enter through unprotected skin, generally feet, and causes intense itching and possibly blisters several hours later.
It’s scary to think medical waste can turn up along our shores, but it’s happened. Your biggest concern with a needle prick would be hepatitis B. Dr. Farcy recommends if you are pricked with a needle, see a doctor who may recommend undergoing testing, and adds, “unfortunately there is no way to prevent hepatitis B after it happens.” To put your mind at ease concerning the risk of HIV, Dr. Farcy says the virus is too fragile, and the risk is near zero unless the needle was recently used and freshly discarded.
While I love to feel the sand between my toes, I’m now rethinking whether or not to ever remove my flip flops. I mean, there’s dog crap everywhere on a beach despite signs forbidding it, and I’ve stepped on enough broken glass and weird random trash to know that needles are not beyond the realm of possibility.
3. Sea Lice/Swimmer’s Itch
No one wants to come into contact with sharks, stingrays or jellyfish, but there may be a friendly encounter with a fish that brushes against you and leaves behind a parasite, causing severe itching in the bathing suit area. Many swimmers may rush to the nearest beach shower to rinse off, but Dr. Farcy says not so fast because that you may do more harm than good. “The fresh water will kill the parasite, causing them to release a toxin that will cause the itch to intensify,” says Dr. Farcy. The best bet is to remove your swimsuit (not in public) and wash with soap and water.
I cannot believe that I’d never heard of this evident cousin to jock itch or head lice before now. On a serious note, it’s clearly important to know how to treat it … and I’m sure it will definitely add some entertaining joke opportunities (“Who’s winning the battle down there, the sea lice or the crabs?”).
4. Contaminated Water or Sea Life
Swallowing water could cause more than a brief coughing fit. Large downpours of rain can cause sewage backups that end up in the ocean, causing an increased amount of E. Coli bacteria. If you swallow contaminated water, it could cause vomiting, nausea and diarrhea. Always adhere to the beach advisories that are put up to protect you. Local governments test water for contamination on a regular basis and post advisories warning swimmers to stay ashore. Last year, the number of beach closings and advisories reached 24,091, the second-highest level in 21 years, according to an annual survey by Natural Resources Defense Council.
While I was raised to never swallow swimming water (lakes, ponds, pools, oceans, or bathtubs), I know a lot of people do (one of my childhood friends had this great trick she could do by squirting water out of her mouth like a whale).
What concerned me a bit more, though, is that I never really thought about the importance of washing ocean water from your hands. In fact, my parents told me (and I tell my kids … well, told) to use beach water to wash their hands. Oops.
Also of interest is that collecting seashells, a pastime enjoyed by young and old, actually brings a risk of carrying home anything from germs to waste from oil spills. Yummy …
5. Sand Traps
Burying someone in sand may seem fun and harmless, but in fact, it can be deadly. Within minutes, sand pits can potentially turn into a beach coffin. “It can crush their chest to the point where they stop breathing,” says Dr. Farcy. In May, Jakub Maly, an Olympic swimmer from Austria was nearly crushed to death after he jumped into a sand pit at a beach in Pompano Beach, Florida. It took rescuers two hours to pull him from the sand’s grip. He was released from the hospital and returned home with the rest of his team.
Based on my non-official observations, a large percentage of people have either been buried in sand or shoveled it onto someone else. I had no idea there was any sort of legitimate risk involved (although I suppose it’s obvious if you stop and think about it).
Well, now that there’s this extra stuff to think about, who wants to go to the beach?