With the summer sun comes plenty of fun activities — but also a new set of hazards to be wary of.
Anyone who plans on spending time outdoors this summer should be cognizant of the health risks they may face. Among them? The threat of necrotizing fasciitis, known commonly as flesh-eating bacteria, which can be contracted in surprising ways.
Here’s what to know about the infection and other warm weather risks, including ticks, dry drowning and more.
Campers should always be alert of wild animals when entering their homes, with a string of recent incidents highlighting the threat.
In May, a 5-year-old Colorado girl was attacked by a bear in her own backyard. And even those experienced with animals can face the threat, as evidenced by a 28-year-old grizzly bear researcher who was mauled by a bear while working alone near a stream in the Cabinet Mountains of Montana on May 17.
The seasonal wildlife technician with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was able to reach for her canister of bear deterrent during the attack, which allowed her to fend off the animal and save her life.
Many steps can be taken to avoid a bear attack, according to the U.S. Forest Service. Campers are encouraged to keep all food secured in tents, and to use food lockers when available. Garbage shouldn’t be stored at campsites, but rather in provided bins.
If you encounter a bear while camping or hiking, the U.S. Forest Service advises against surprising the animal by being quiet, and says to “never” approach a bear if you see it on the trail. The Forest Service also says to never approach a cub, even if it appears to be alone.
Additionally, never run from a bear if you should encounter one, instead remaining calm while backing away slowly and facing the bear.
“If the bear continues to approach, try to scare it away by making yourself as large and imposing as possible and making loud noises,” the Forest Service says. “Carry and know how to use bear spray, which is available at many outdoor retailers and can be used to deter a charging bear.”
Aquatic animals pose risks as well, as evidenced by an incident in early June in Florida. A woman’s arm was found inside of an alligator in a lake in Davie after she disappeared while walking her dogs.
The Florida Wildlife Commission encourages members of the public to never feed alligators and advises to always be aware of the possibility of their presence when in or near brackish or fresh water. According to the commission, alligators are typically the most active between dusk and dawn.
Necrotizing fasciitis is a bacterial skin infection which kills soft tissue — and quickly, often leading to death, according to the CDC.
Most commonly, the infection is contracted through an open wound, which is why the CDC recommends against spending time in whirlpools, hot tubs, swimming pools or natural bodies of water if you have a cut or abrasion.
But the health risk extends beyond just hitting your local pond for a dip. Earlier this year, PEOPLE reported on a California man who died after contracting the bacterial infection. According to his family, he had cut his hand while fishing and handling the fish.
In January, an 8-year-old Oregon boy fell while riding his bike, his handle bars causing a laceration. Despite getting stitches and an antibiotic treatment, the boy grew gravely ill. Doctors amputated the infected area, but the boy died.
The risks even extend beyond outdoor activities. Earlier this year, a 55-year-old woman from Texas died after eating oysters she bought at a Louisiana market. Doctors told the woman’s family that she was infected with vibrio, a bacterial infection that people can contract after consuming raw or undercooked seafood or exposing a wound to seawater, according to the CDC.
The CDC says that flesh-eating bacteria is rare, and notes that the chances of contracting necrotizing fasciitis is “extremely low” for those with strong immune systems. Still, proper wound care is important.
Identifying symptoms come on quick, according to the CDC, and can vary. Some people experience soreness and red or purple swelling, while others get blisters or ulcers. Later, those infected can experience fever, chills and vomiting.
The symptoms can be confusing and often indicate something else, but those concerned are encouraged to seek medical attention immediately.
Cutting the grass can prove dangerous if those helming the appliance aren’t aware of their surroundings.
According to a 2017 report from the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, lawn mower-related injuries send 13 children to the hospital every day — totaling some 4,800 children a year.
In April, a 3-year-old Washington child died after falling off a lawn mower while riding it with his father. And the next month, a 5-year-old girl in Indiana lost her foot after a relative didn’t see her playing nearby and accidentally ran her over.
The Bainter family of Florida has made it their mission to prevent more accidents of that nature, they recently told PEOPLE. Jake Bainter, now 18, lost his leg after his father accidentally ran it over with a lawn mower 14 years ago.
In fact, Jodi Bainter — Jake’s mom — started a foundation called Limbs Matter, which aims to encourage parents to keep their children indoors while they mow the lawn.
And that message is “important,” Gary Smith, director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, told PEOPLE.
“I’ve taken care of several children in the ER and we’ve seen those identical injuries. The children come in and their leg or foot has been amputated. The story has been the same every time. These are good parents. They simply were unaware the child was behind them,” Smith, an emergency room physician, told PEOPLE. “It happens in a blink of the eye and before you know it, it’s too late. In just a split second, they’ll shatter bone and rip flesh. These horrific injuries are lifelong.”
Cooler summer nights are perfect for bonfires, but the open flames can prove dangerous for those who don’t practice fire safety.
Just last month, a 71-year-old woman died after falling into a fire pit outside her Worcester, Massachusetts, home. Worcester fire officials pronounced her dead at the scene from severe burns, according to CBS Boston. Investigators said she was unable to climb out of the pit.
According to U.S. National Park Service, numerous factors should be considered when building a fire of any size. Those planning to roast marshmallows should make sure fires are contained in some sort of pit or rock circle.
Accelerants like lighter fluid should be used cautiously — and flammable liquids like gasoline should never be used. In April, 12 Illinois teens were injured after a boy put gasoline on a fire at a party in an attempt to make the flames bigger. Several were hospitalized, and one girl’s mom told PEOPLE her daughter suffered second- and third-degree burns.
Lighter fluids should also not be squirted directly on open flames, as it could cause a flare up, says the U.S. National Park Service.
When around a fire, be mindful of your clothing, as synthetic materials can melt. Watch children closely, and partake in alcoholic beverages cautiously — and never throw cans or bottles into a fire, as plastics can release toxic gasses.
Finally, never leave a fire unattended.
On hot days, taking a dip in the pool or ocean can be the perfect way to cool down — but any plunge should be done with caution.
Simple hard and fast rules to follow include to always swim with a buddy — even if there’s a lifeguard present — and never leave children unattended near water, according to the American Red Cross. For home pools and hot tubs, barriers and safety covers should be installed, and access ladders should be removed when not in use.
Further, the Red Cross suggests that pool toys should be kept away from the area when not in use, to avoid attracting young children.
In May, a young California toddler died after falling into the family’s swimming pool, which was not fenced in. Her twin sister was hospitalized after nearly drowning as well.
After a day at the pool, parents should also be cautious about “delayed” or “secondary” drowning, which happens when water enters the lungs and causes them to swell or become inflamed. Symptoms, like a fever, can show up hours or days later, according to ABC News.
Even if there will be no swimming, the Red Cross says that parents should always exercise caution around natural bodies of water. In April, a 4-year-old boy was swept away by a wave in the Outer Banks as he walked along the beach with his mother. The Red Cross suggests always having young children wear flotation devices when near the water.
Hitting the great outdoors is one of the best parts of summer, but long hikes come with their own set of hazards. Among them: ticks.
According to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention, cases of illnesses stemming from tick, mosquito and flea bites — such as Zika, West Nile and Lyme disease — have tripled over the last 13 years.
“Lyme disease-carrying ticks are most prevalent in the wooded areas, tall grass and lawns and gardens that we tend to play, hike and relax in during summer months, so people really have to be proactive in protecting themselves,” Dr. Stork said.
Dr. Stork Said, “Early signs of Lyme disease include a rash that follows a bulls-eye pattern and can sometimes expand beyond initial bite site.” He explained that flu-like symptoms such as chills, fever, body aches and fatigue can also accompany the rash.
If you or a family member start showing any of these symptoms, he suggested seeing your healthcare provider immediately. “They can discuss your symptoms with you and order additional testing to ensure you are correctly diagnosed.”
In addition to threats from ticks, hikers should also be wary of their familiarity with different landscapes before they tackle long climbs or challenging trails.
Earlier this year, a man lost his footing and fell to his death from a 500-foot cliff in California while rushing to save his dog.
“Think about your footing while traveling near cliffs,” the U.S. Forest Service encourages. “Trees and bushes can’t always be trusted to hold you. Stay on developed trails or dry, solid rock areas with good footing.”
Amusement and Water Parks
Cooling off at a water park or enjoying rollercoasters on the local fairground can seem like an easy way to tackle those long summer days. Still, parents should be careful and attentive at any amusement park.
Just earlier this year, a water park operator and an executive were indicted on charges of involuntary manslaughter in connection with the 2016 death of 10-year-old Caleb Schwab at Schlitterbahn Water Park in Kansas City. Schwab was decapitated on the 17-story Verrückt waterslide on August 7, 2016, when the raft he was on went airborne and collided with the overhead netting attached to the waterside.
In the summer of 2017, a Virginia woman was left with a broken collarbone, a severe concussion with staples in her head and bruises all over her body after the raft she was on at a water ride at the Kings Dominion amusement park flipped.
The International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions has several tips for a safe trip to the water park, including that all instructions by staff and signage at the park should be read and listened to.
“Follow the lifeguards’ instructions and signal them if you see someone in trouble,” the IAAPA says. “The buddy system is an excellent way to ensure no children are left alone.”
At amusement parks, the IAAPA suggests the same attention to posted rules and verbal instructions. Additionally, the IAAPA says that all riders should always used the provided safety equipment and restraints, and remain seated on a ride until it comes to a complete stop.
Summer can be the most fun time of year for families, but don’t let the heat get your guard down!