By Andrew Solomon
This is part 1 of a 4 part series highlighting “summer germs” this week (June 24 – June 28).
This is the last week of school for Boston Public Schools and summer vacation is nearly here! As we Bostonians play in our beautiful parks, enjoy a long day at the beach, or take our dogs for an evening walk, we must also think about a few important health concerns. Not only should we wear sunscreen, wear a helmet, and stay well hydrated and cool on a hot summer day, we must also watch out for several infectious diseases.
Infectious diseases are caused by germs passed to you from a person, animal, food, inanimate object, or through the air. For most of these diseases, the germs are bacteria or viruses. This includes illnesses like the seasonal flu and the common cold. It is possible to get the flu or a cold anytime of the year, but most of us get these during the dry winter months. During the summer in Boston, we are more concerned about germs causing diseases like rabies, mosquito-borne illnesses, and “food poisoning”.
Why are we more concerned about these germs now?
During the winter in Boston, we spend most of our time indoors in close contact with family, friends, teachers, co-workers, and many others. This contact can allow germs from other people, inanimate objects, or those in the air to spread more easily and more quickly. We will come in contact with more bacteria and viruses from someone’s sneeze, cough, or germ filled hands in the winter and are much more likely to get sick with an illness like the flu or common cold.
During the summer, we spend more time outside and do not come in contact with “winter germs” as often. However, summer activities put us at risk for a different set of diseases. Germs spread by animals, insects, and those that grow quickly in warm weather are more common in the summer. We are much more likely to come in contact with wildlife or a neighbor’s dog that could have rabies when we are outside. Many insects that spread diseases, like mosquitoes that spread West Nile Virus and Eastern Equine Encephalitis, are often only active in the summer. Finally, bacteria that can be found living in our food thrive when left outside in 90°F weather – leaving outdoor picnics and social gatherings vulnerable to “food poisoning”.
What can you do?
This week, we will highlight the importance of these germs and what you can do to stay safe this summer. Check back on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday to learn more! On Thursday (June 27), we break to celebrate National HIV Testing Day. This is a great week to get a free HIV test!
Contact your healthcare provider with additional questions on “summer germs” or the Boston Public Health Commission at (617) 534-5611 or www.bphc.org. If you need help locating a healthcare provider or getting health insurance, contact the Mayor’s Health Line at (617) 534-5050.
Andrew Solomon is a project manager with the Public Health Commission, supporting the Infectious Disease Bureau in Education & Outreach.