Archive for Wednesday, July 30, 2003

Area fair-goers should be health conscious, wash up

How to recognize heat exhaustion, heat stroke

July 30, 2003


When I've been going to county fairs this summer, I've noticed many people handling animals and then heading right to the food stands to eat without washing their hands first. Isn't that unsafe?

Yes, it is unsafe. Whether families are at the county fair, a petting zoo or on a farm, it's important for them to take basic health precautions as part of the day. Any animal that we handle may carry infectious disease; therefore, children and adults alike should wash their hands with soap and water and dry them thoroughly after being around animals of any kind. It's especially important to wash hands before eating.

Even if the animals weren't touched directly, bacteria can live on other surfaces -- fences, gates, and walls -- for long periods of time. And it's not just farm animals that carry illness-causing pathogens. Dogs, cats and other domestic and wild animals sometimes carry pathogens that can make people ill. A recent example is the monkeypox outbreak in the United States, where ongoing investigations point to close contact with infected wild or exotic pets, mainly prairie dogs, as the primary form of transmission. Some of the prairie dogs were kept as pets. As of July 24, 109 human cases of monkeypox had been reported to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to published reports. To date, 37 of the cases have been lab-confirmed and 72 are under investigation. Fifty-seven of them were from Wisconsin, 23 from Indiana, 22 from Illinois, four from Missouri, two from Kansas, and one from Ohio.

Concerns about health should not keep people from enjoying being around and having contact with animals. But taking simple precautions such as thorough hand washing can make the difference between an enjoyable memory and a difficult incident.

What's the best way to wash our hands?

To wash, lather hands for 20 seconds with soap and water and rinse them in warm water. Dry with a single-use paper towel or use an air blower. In the absence of soap and water, carrying a container of anti-bacterial cleaner can serve as a substitute. As with anti-bacterial soaps, though, anti-bacterial agents can destroy the "good" bacteria as well. While this issue can be debatable, the need to wash hands often is not. It's an easy way to reduce risks from foodborne -- and other -- bacteria.

To reduce the risks from bacteria, remember to wash your hands after handling live animals, after visiting animal areas, before and after eating, and before and after handling raw or cooked foods.

Is there a difference between heat exhaustion and heat stroke?

According to Mike Bradshaw, Kansas State University Research and Extension health and safety specialist, there is a difference between heat exhaustion and heat stroke and it's important to recognize the differences.

With heat exhaustion, a person may feel clammy, sweat profusely, and/or feel weak, dizzy or nauseated. Body temperature may, however, be close to normal.

When heat exhaustion is suspected, follow these guidelines:

  • Loosen clothing.
  • Drink plenty of fluids, especially water.
  • Lie down; elevate feet slightly.
  • Apply cool, wet cloths to the forehead.
  • Fan the person suffering from heat exhaustion and/or move him or her to an air-conditioned facility or room cooled with a fan.
  • If a person suffering from heat exhaustion starts vomiting, do not force fluids. Seek medical treatment immediately.

With heat stroke, a person also may feel dizzy, weak or confused. Skin will feel dry rather than sweaty. Body temperature can rise to 105 degrees or higher. If heat stroke is suspected, seek medical treatment immediately. While waiting for an ambulance to arrive, shade the person from direct sun. Loosen clothing and cool the body with water or fan to lower body temperature. Avoid stimulants, such as coffee, tea or colas with caffeine.

Here are some additional hot-weather tips to follow:

  • Whenever possible, limit outside hours during extreme heat. For example, try to work early and take a few hours off during the warmer part of the day.
  • Wear loose-fitting clothing. Natural fibers, such as cotton, can be cooler than synthetics.
  • Wear light-colored clothing that will reflect, rather than absorb, the heat.
  • Wear a hat.
  • Use sunscreen.
  • Drink plenty of water to replenish body fluids lost through perspiration, which is the body's way of cooling itself. Cool water passes through the stomach quickly, which makes it a good choice to re-hydrate the body. Drink water before, during and after activity to maintain fluids, rather than wait until you are thirsty.
  • Read medication labels; heat and sunlight may influence the effectiveness of some medications and/or cause undesirable side effects.
  • In the home, limit the use of high-energy appliances to conserve energy for air-conditioning. Save chores like washing and drying clothes in the dryer for early morning or late evening hours when utility use is not at its peak.
  • Kansans who do not have air-conditioning are advised to seek cooler environments with family or friends, or to spend time during the hottest part of the day in cooler public buildings, such as the library, civic/senior center or shopping mall.
  • Limit unnecessary travel. Vehicles without a working air-conditioner pose the most concern, but any traveler can be caught unexpectedly with a breakdown. Carry a jug or cooler of water in the car or truck.
  • Park the car or truck in the shade and leave the windows cracked for ventilation.
  • Do not leave children or pets in a parked car. Temperatures can rise to dangerous levels in a matter of minutes. For example, on a cloudy day recently, state climatologist Mary Knapp used a lab-certified thermometer to measure the heat in a white car parked outside a meeting facility with the windows rolled up. There were intermittent clouds and the outside temperature was 70 degrees. The temperature inside the unair-conditioned facility, with windows and doors open and ceiling fans working, was 74.5 degrees. In the car, the temperature ranged from 120 degrees to 149 degrees. The temperature rose rapidly, said Knapp, who explained that leaving people -- especially young children, older adults or pets -- in a vehicle for even a short time can be deadly.
  • Watch pets closely. Provide a shady spot and a good supply of water or bring them inside.
  • If you live alone, make arrangements to check in with a neighbor or friend each day.

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