Lawrence and Douglas County

Lawrence and Douglas county

Summer dangers: Outdoor activities raise risk of illness, injuries

June 26, 2006


Ah. Those crazy, hazy, lazy days of summer are here.

Picnics, campouts, hiking, fishing, gardening and many more activities are all popular in summer months.

And lurking behind every one of those activities and many more are dangers that can quickly have you humming the summertime blues, and sometimes there ain't no cure.

Just ask Judy Bonifield, whose ankle still bothers her sometimes.

It's been nearly a year since Bonifield, wearing sandals, walked off a pathway in the dark one July night outside her rural Lawrence home after finishing some gardening.

She stepped on what she thought was a stick and felt something strike her ankle.

"I thought I might have stepped on a locust branch or something," Bonifield said. "When I got back to the house I knew I was in trouble. It hurt incredibly."

Bonifield went to Lawrence Memorial Hospital where it was determined she had been bitten by a copperhead snake. Her blood pressure dropped dramatically. Eventually, hospital workers were able to give her morphine for the pain as her ankle swelled to twice its normal size. She was in the hospital for two days and on crutches for two weeks.

"It was my fault. I don't blame the snake," she said. "I always carry a flashlight now."

Snakebites are not a frequent occurrence around Lawrence. Only about two snakebite patients a year are seen in the LMH emergency room, emergency department director Scott Robinson said.

But carelessness can get you bitten by a venomous snake, and in Douglas County that means it mostly likely will be a copperhead or a timber rattler, said Joe Collins, adjunct herpetologist with the Kansas Biological Survey.

Busy emergency room

Snakes aren't the only danger lurking behind seemingly innocuous activities. This time of year, the LMH emergency room is filled with a variety of summer activity-related injuries.

"Where do I start?" Robinson said, before listing the most common. Near the top of the list are yardwork injuries, particularly from mowing accidents. Then there are injuries from hedge-clippers and chain saws.

"You are doing something you aren't doing every day, and they are dangerous machines," Robinson said.

A bad case of weekend poison ivy also will send people to the hospital to seek relief when doctors' offices are closed.

"It's not life-threatening, but if you get a pretty good exposure to those things, it's miserable and difficult to treat," Robinson said.

When the temperature reaches the upper 90s or the 100s, people suffer heat strokes. Usually the victims are very young children and the elderly. Also susceptible are people taking medications that don't allow them to perspire normally, Robinson said.

"People should stay well-hydrated in the summer and be aware that you can get pretty fatigued and sick if you don't," he said.

Other dangers

During the past few years, Kansans have had to deal with a new summer illness: The West Nile virus. Carried by mosquitoes that pick up the disease from birds, it is transferred to humans through what was once a routine, itchy bite on the arm or other place on the body. West Nile results in flu-like symptoms that sometimes cause long-term aftereffects and can even kill.

Nine Kansans came down with West Nile last year, and one person in southwest Kansas died from it, according to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. The number of cases have fluctuated since 2002, when there were 22 cases reported to KDHE but no deaths. In 2003, 90 people contracted West Nile and seven died; and in 2004, there were 46 cases and two deaths.

Avoid mosquito bites by using a repellent spray and keeping yourself covered as much as possible. Make sure standing pools of water, where mosquitoes breed, are drained.

Just being outside in the sun presents its own danger. Every year there are 12,000 new cases of skin cancer in Kansas, according to KDHE. Health experts advise applying sun screen with SPF 15 or higher to your skin. It should be replenished every two hours or after sweating or swimming.

The 'silent killer'

Each year there are about 700 drownings nationally from boating accidents, according to the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks. The No. 1 rule of safety on boats is to wear a life jacket. About 90 percent of those who have drowned weren't wearing one.

While common boating rules should be followed, boating also presents a special danger that is often overlooked: carbon monoxide poisoning. Two years ago, carbon monoxide gathered in the air where several boats were anchored for a party in a cove at Perry Lake. Overcome by fumes, a woman fell overboard and drowned. Two other women also were overcome by the gas but survived.

The problem was caused by lack of air movement and gas generators used on some of the boats. Always have a working carbon monoxide detector on your boat, if for nothing else than to test the boat engine's emissions, said Bunny Watkins, park resource manager at Perry.

"That's a silent killer," Watkins said of carbon monoxide.

Ruining a picnic

Everyone enjoys a picnic, but all it takes are a few well-placed, harmful bacteria to ruin one.

There is about a two-hour window in which food can be safely left outside, unrefrigerated. If the temperature is over 90 degrees make that one hour, said Susan Krumm, an agent with K-State Research and Extension in Douglas County. Be especially careful with fish, poultry and meat. Also on the critical watch list are potato, egg and pasta salads.

If you are grilling, cook the food well and make sure tongs and platters are properly washed. Discard the marinade after the grilling, Krumm said.

Melons, such as cantaloupes and watermelons, should be kept on ice, at 40 degrees or below, Krumm said. Once a melon is cut, bacteria grow if it isn't properly cooled.

"If a melon isn't on ice when I go to a picnic, I don't choose to eat it unless I brought it and know how it I've handled it," Krumm said. "There actually have been outbreaks of salmonella from cut melons."

A few years ago, several people at a gathering in Jefferson County became ill from salmonella after eating homemade ice cream that had raw eggs as an ingredient, Krumm said. An elderly man died because he had a weakened immune system.

"Nobody wants to spoil a picnic by getting sick over food," Krumm said.


bankboy119 11 years, 10 months ago

Wow this is pathetic. Everybody be afraid of everything and never leave your house or something may happen. The sky is falling.

Christine Pennewell Davis 11 years, 10 months ago

you know the new studies say a little dirt is good for you. go out have fun the hosp. and docs. just want money

Kornphlake 11 years, 10 months ago

Dear Lawrence Journal-World Why do you guys insist on scaring the populace? Dangers of going outside for activities? How bout the dangers of not going outside. It must be a slow news day or something. Is this the only place for news in Lawrence? If so then that explains everything, maybe I'll start some competition so you guys have to step your game up.

Christine Pennewell Davis 11 years, 10 months ago

common sense people if it is 110 do not mow the grass at noon and do not garden in the dark the bug bite alone are enough to tell you that.

planetwax 11 years, 10 months ago

Here's some information about sunscreen that may surprise. It's not as safe and effective as you may think.:

Just being outside in the sun presents its own danger. >Every year there are 12,000 new cases of skin cancer >in Kansas, according to KDHE. Health experts advise >applying sun screen with SPF 15 or higher to your skin. >It should be replenished every two hours or after >sweating or swimming.

Christine Pennewell Davis 11 years, 10 months ago

well that is not new info just more published now. Sunscreen makers did not want all the bad out there with the good they do. mmmmm be replenised every 2 hours ok easy enough.....or after sweating? hello people this is summer in ks. if you walk outside you sweat hello sunscrean makers get a clue not every place has 2% humidity

Christine Pennewell Davis 11 years, 10 months ago

bitchin no humor today? I already stated good common sense try to have a little fun come on already. gez

Christine Pennewell Davis 11 years, 10 months ago

well ok but the sky is falling oh wait nope false alarm, it is all that humidity that makes sun screen not worth the money you pay for it.

egypt 11 years, 10 months ago

So instead of going outside to enjoy weather, skies, hanging out with friends, exersizing and being active we should all stay inside infront of our televisions, and computers (and we wonder why there is such a problem with over-weight americans)


BunE 11 years, 10 months ago

Well, this did not really come across to me as a "fear the Outdoors" kind of article. It seems more like the typical local paper filler that newpapers of this size often print. Here is a little know fact, skiiers are more likely to get hurt in February than in August. Hmmmmmm.

conserv26 11 years, 10 months ago

Let's all just stay inside, play video games, get fat, and die an early death... This is the most ridiculous story I've read in a long time. FEAR, live in fear people is the message! Conspiracy theory: this story was created by a group of cardiologists looking to drum up new clientele for future bypass surgeries.

YOU ARE MORE AT RISK BY SITTING ON YOUR ACE AND DOING NOTHING SO GET OFF YOUR DUFFS PEOPLE AND LIVE LIFE...OUTSIDE :o) And L-J World, don't you think we have enough to fear already in the world?, way to go :o(

Commenting has been disabled for this item.