Tips to Prevent Illness and Injury During Your Summer Getaway

June 14, 2023

Every summer the emergency department fills up with travelers– families far from home with vacation plans gone awry. We see children with high fevers, vomiting, broken bones, burns, poison ivy, and infected insect bites.

But with a few tricks and a bit of preparation, you can keep your kids out of the ER and actually enjoy your vacation.

1) When you’re at a party or crowded event, think germs: 
Family reunions, amusement parks, and other crowded summer events are a haven for bacteria and viruses. High-volume public restrooms can be a reservoir of bugs that cause gastrointestinal illnesses. Parents sometimes bring a child who is sick, so they don’t miss out on the fun. And poorly prepared food and picnics with poor refrigeration are a recipe for food poisoning.

Here are a few tricks to stay safe at crowded events.

  • Use a fork: Avoid dipping into bowls of chips and eating finger foods, which may have been touched by other people. Get a plate and use a fork.
  • Stay away from the sick kid: If you see a kid who’s visibly sick, try to keep your kids at a distance from them to avoid transmission.
  • Skip the mayonnaise: Mayonnaise-based potato salad and coleslaw are common culprits for food poisoning, especially when they’ve been sitting outside too long. Make your favorite picnic dishes without egg products and avoid foods that require refrigeration.
  • Bring hand sanitizer: Use it a lot. Share with your kids

2) Don’t swallow the pool water:
An unpleasant truth: according to the CDC, there’s a lot of poop in pool water. Swim diapers don’t fully prevent fecal matter from entering the water. But an even bigger problem is that kids and grownups don’t typically shower before entering the pool. Chlorine kills some germs but not all, and Crypto, a bacteria that causes diarrhea, is harder to kill. Don’t drink the pool water, and watch your children to make sure they don’t either.

3) Treat all mosquito bites:
It may seem like overkill to treat every little bug bite, but toddlers can scratch the bites and potentially cause a skin infection requiring antibiotics or even surgical drainage. Staph bacteria, including the antibiotic-resistant strain MRSA, commonly infect scratched mosquito bites. Insect bites can be treated with topical Benadryl and hydrocortisone (available over-the-counter); for more severe itch and multiple bites, treat with a dose of oral Benadryl.

4) Bring a family first aid kit:
Many, if not most, common summer injuries can be remedied with a few over-the-counter medications and basic first aid. But you have to have the right first aid supplies at the right time. Don’t leave home without a family first aid kit, complete with child-friendly supplies such as liquid medications, nausea medication, anti-itch cream, sunscreen, bug spray, and much more.

5) Keep children and teens away from BBQ grills and campfires:
Smaller children tend to get burned on BBQ grills, while small kids up to teens get burns from open campfires. Kids can become overly excited around campfires. You can prevent campfire burns by drawing a line with chalk or a stick around the fire pit, and letting them know that no one except the “firemaster” is inside. Do the same with the grill – only the “chef” can be near the flames. And make sure your kids are up to date on their fire safety rules.

6) Prepare for fireworks:
Speaking of burns, fireworks season is coming! As we gear up for the 4th of July weekend, there are several ways you can prevent your display from getting dangerous:

  • Fireworks are not kid-friendly: Never allow young children to play with or ignite fireworks; that includes sparklers, which are hot enough to burn some metals.
  • Anticipate anything: Keep a bucket of water or a garden hose handy, in case of fire or other mishap.
  • Keep yourself safe too: Light fireworks one at a time, moving quickly away, while never placing any part of your body directly over a fireworks device when lighting the fuse.
  • “Dud” fireworks are still dangerous: Do not handle or try to relight malfunctioning fireworks. Soak them in water and throw them away. Also douse used fireworks before discarding.
  • Point away from people: Never point or throw fireworks, including sparklers, at anyone.
  • Stay sober: Do not use fireworks while impaired by drugs or alcohol.

Fireworks are also a risk for hearing loss. The inner ear contains delicate hair cells, which don’t grow back if they’ve been damaged. Children are at particular risk since they tend to want to be closer to the fireworks. Ensure that everyone is a safe distance away, and never hold or throw a lighted firework.

Everyone deserves an emergency-free vacation. With these tips, you and your family can have a fun, and safe, summer break.

The Hospitalist Team