Health Department Offers Tips for Outdoor Activities, Urges New Yorkers to "Fight The Bite"

Simple Steps Can Prevent Disease and Injury over the Labor Day Weekend

ALBANY, NEW YORK, September 2, 2004 — Planning to spend time outdoors this Labor Day weekend as the days of summer run down to a precious few? The State Health Department has three words for you: Fight the Bite!

As people make plans for picnics, camping, trips to the park or beach, or visits to the State Fair, State Health Commissioner Antonia C. Novello, M.D., M.P.H., Dr.P.H., is reminding them to pack some insect repellent along with their sunscreen, and to use it appropriately to prevent mosquito bites.

"Most mosquito bites are merely annoying, but with mosquito-borne viruses like West Nile virus and Eastern Equine Encephalitis currently present in some areas, why take chances?" Dr Novello said. "Proper application of an insect repellent containing DEET will help keep mosquitoes away. Wear long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, socks and shoes and apply repellent carefully to any exposed skin, especially if you are going to be outside during the early morning hours or after dusk. Enjoy your picnic without becoming a mosquito's meal!"

DEET (N, N-diethyl-m-toluamide), is a chemical that has been proven effective against mosquitoes; however, insect repellents should always be used according to label instructions. Choose a DEET product based on your particular circumstances. For instance, you would likely need to use a lower amount and lower concentration of DEET if you were spending a short time outdoors in an area of low mosquito activity than if you were hiking in the deep woods. Do not apply DEET near the eyes, nose or mouth and use sparingly around ears. Do not apply to the hands of small children. After returning indoors, wash treated skin with soap and water.

Dr. Novello's advice comes in the wake of recent findings of Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) virus in mosquitoes and horses in several locations in Onondaga County, including a site near the New York State Fairgrounds. Although mosquito activity at that location is lower than elsewhere in the county, the Onondaga County Health Department conducted ground spraying overnight to reduce the mosquito population even further.

Human cases of EEE are rare, but it is a serious disease if someone does get infected. The last human case of EEE occurred in New York State in 1983. In past years, along with locations in central New York (Onondaga, Oneida, Oswego and Madison counties), EEE has been found in Suffolk County and the lower Hudson Valley. Dutchess, Orange, Putnam and Ulster counties had their first isolations of EEE last year.

West Nile virus also continues to circulate in New York State. A total of 32 counties have had infected birds and mosquitoes so far this year, and four human cases have been confirmed. No deaths have been reported. Different species of mosquitoes are usually associated with transmission of the two diseases, but the same precautionary measures will protect against both.

Now, about that sunscreen…

Before heading outside for the holiday weekend, it's important to "protect the skin you're in." Exposure to the sun's ultraviolet rays can cause painful sunburn and increase your chance of skin cancer. For the best protection, use sunscreen whenever you spend time outdoors.

  • Choose a sunscreen that offers both UVA and UVB protection.
  • Put sunscreen on 30 minutes before going outside.
  • Rub a generous amount of sunscreen on all uncovered skin (except the eyes) and even on areas that will be covered by light clothing, which does not filter out all UV rays.
  • Use a sunscreen stick or lip balm on sensitive areas like the lips, nose, ears, hands and feet.
  • Choose a water-resistant or waterproof sunscreen if you are going swimming.
  • Reapply sunscreen every two hours.

Other advice for your outdoor activities

Picnic without peril—keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. Temperature control is the key to safe food preparation. Bacteria multiply rapidly at room temperature, but do not grow well at temperatures at or below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Perishable foods like poultry, shellfish, eggs and dairy products should be refrigerated if they will not be used within two hours.

Stay safe in the water—don't swim alone. Use the "buddy" system so you can keep an eye on each other. If you are going boating, make sure everyone wears a personal flotation device (PFD), such as a life vest. The vest should have a Coast Guard approved label, fit snugly and be in good condition.

Don't drink alcohol if you are planning to swim or go boating. Alcohol slows reaction time and affects balance and judgment.

"Summer's over in a flash, but health effects can linger. These are things we all know, and just need to remember to do," Dr. Novello said.