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With Fourth of July exuberance, we Americans take to the park for a picnic, hike through the countryside, drive to the beach, and march in parades. That exuberance has its hazards, though. Here’s a primer on how to stay healthy as we celebrate our cherished Independence Day.
Driving on the Fourth
Drive mindfully and defensively—and needless to say, don’t drive after drinking. A 2012 study by AAA showed that the July 4 holiday is the most dangerous day of the year to be on the road. More teenagers die from traffic fatalities on this day than any other day of the year, so be especially vigilant about the behavior of other drivers on this day.
Distracted driving (texting, talking on a cell phone, visual distractions) is a leading factor in many crashes. The Governors Highway Safety Association offers a handy guide to distracted-driving laws in the states; its chart shows which states ban texting or cell phone use by novice drivers and by all drivers.
Preventing “Food Poisoning”
Summer heat and moisture provide just the right environment for the rapid growth of the many organisms that can cause foodborne illness (the dreaded “food poisoning”). The Department of Agriculture’s Food Safe Families campaign offers the following common-sense guidelines to help prevent foodborne illnesses.
- Cleaning is essential: Wash hands with soap and water before and during food preparation, and clean kitchen surfaces and utensils before and after use. If you are planning to do food preparation at someplace other than a home kitchen, make sure that there is safe water for cleaning; if there isn’t, bring water for this purpose with you, along with moist antibacterial towelettes and paper towels for cleaning hands and surfaces
- Separate raw meats/fish/poultry from other foods by using different cutting boards. If you are packing raw meat/poultry or fish, wrap thoroughly to prevent any juices from contaminating other foods.
- Cook foods to the right temperature by using a food thermometer.
- Chill raw and prepared foods promptly and keep these chilled until just before the food is to be eaten.
For all of those husbands and fathers who’ll be barbecuing this Thursday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Barbecuing and Food Safety site offers cautionary advice on safe buying, thawing, transporting, microwave pre-cooking, barbecuing, and re-heating meat.
And for hikers campers, and boaters, the USDA has useful tips on keeping food hot and cold; what foods are safe to bring along; and the “food danger zones”—temperatures at which bacteria can reach dangerous levels in two hours (or even just one hour, at 90 degrees and above).
Recreational water related illnesses and deaths are significantly high on July 4, since this is a day of celebration spent on the water for many families. Deaths and disabilities from boating accidents will be in the news again this year. Avoid the activities that increase the chance of a serious accident: operator inattention, excessive speed, improper lookout, operator inexperience, no life jacket, and alcohol use.
Ticks, fleas, and mosquitos spread illnesses. These vectors carry lyme disease, babesiosis, Ehrlichiosis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, diseases that cause encephalitis, and other serious illnesses. Know what diseases are epidemic in the areas where you will be and take precautions. Wear protective clothing, use insect repellent, check your body and hair for fleas and ticks once you end your day.
Heat and Sun Damage
Heat stroke, sunburn, and sun poisoning are increasing in frequency as the documented rise in temperatures across the U.S. continues. Remain hydrated, avoid too much time in an overheated area, use sunscreen, wear hats and clothing treated to decrease UVA and UVB sun damage. Infants, young children, and the elderly are especially vulnerable to the danger of high temperatures and excessive sun exposure.
These medical problems or emergencies do happen—unexpectedly, always—to many Americans every year, year after year. Let’s make this year the safest Independence Day in history.