Our docs dole out advice on how to enjoy the season while avoiding some common health hazards that go along with it.
Q: I pulled a tick off myself last week, but I haven’t developed a rash. Should I be concerned?
A: You’re right to be worried about ticks in the summer, rash or no rash. Lyme disease, a spirochete bacterial infection transmitted by the black-legged, or deer tick, spikes in the summer and fall, and it is underreported. Even though only 30,000 cases of Lyme get reported to the CDC each year, the organization says that the true number of diagnoses is about 300,000 annually. Ninety-six percent of cases occur in 13 states, mostly in the Northeast, but Lyme pops up in other states as well, including the Western coastal states and the Midwest.
It’s a shame people like you have to worry about the potential of an infection. There used to be a vaccine, but it was pulled off the market in 2002 because of low demand (people didn’t realize how prevalent it was) and concerns about safety.
So until we have a vaccine, watch for these signs: Lyme can cause a rash (called erythema migrans), but only about 60 percent of the time. It may look like a red, expanding bull’s eye around the bite site, although sometimes it’s solid red or oval in shape.
Other symptoms of early Lyme disease include fatigue, fever, muscle and joint aches, and swollen lymph nodes. (If Lyme goes untreated, later symptoms can include mental confusion, heart issues and paralysis.) If that’s not enough, ticks also transmit other, less-common infections like anaplasmosis, babesiosis and STARI, diseases that can also cause swollen joints, fever, muscle pain, and nausea and in people and dogs.
A blood test can help diagnose Lyme disease. (Ask for the Western blot test, which is more accurate than the ELISA test.) If you test positive—or if you have the rash, which on its own is considered reason to treat—a three-week course of antibiotics can usually K.O. the infection if the disease is caught within the first month or so. However, if the bacteria has made its way into your bloodstream and has invaded other organs and tissues, a second course of antibiotics may be worth itto knock out lingering infection and symptoms. If you’re still sick, you should get tested for other tick-borne illnesses as well.
Of course, the best cure is prevention. Here’s how to tick-proof your life:
Do a daily tick check. Ticks must be attached for about 24 hours to transmit Lyme, so pulling them off ASAP can cut your risk of getting sick. Showering within 2 hours of being outdoors—to do a tick check and ditch clothes where ticks might be lurking—is also a proven deterrent.
Spray clothes with the insecticide permethrin (it’s very safe) to kill ticks on contact. Sporting goods stores sell sprays and clothes that are pre-treated with permethrin.
Use tick repellent with 10–30 percent DEET. Spray it only on exposed skin, not underneath clothing. (It’s okay for children older than 2 months—just wash it off as soon as the kids are inside.)
Wear long pants and pull up your socks and tuck your pants into them — yes, you’ll look geeky, but that’s preferable to having swollen, unusable joints.
Tumble-dry clothes for 10 to 15 minutes on high to kill ticks.
Protect your pets. Ticks can transmit Lyme to dogs, too, so do tick checks on pets. (Cats don’t get Lyme as often—which is good, since it’s potentially lethal for them.) To repel ticks in dogs, use a permethrin spray or fipronil solution and a collar treated with the repellent amitraz. There’s a Lyme disease vaccine for dogs (none for cats—yet), so if you live in a Lyme endemic area, talk to your vet.
Q: I love BBQ meat more than life itself, but I’m also trying to eat healthier. Any middle ground?
A: Sounds like you already know about the risks of summer grilling, but just to recap for those who don’t: When any meat—beef, pork, poultry or even fish—is cooked at a high temperature, the amino acids in muscle form potentially cancerous compounds called heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). The added risk with barbecuing over an open flame: When the fat from the meat hits the fire, additional damaging compounds get cooked into your food via the smoke. Yum!
Thank the BBQ Gods that there are a few ways to lower your risk and still enjoy that smoky, savory flavor.
Slap some salmon or chicken on the grill. Fish and poultry are lower in saturated fats than red meat, so not only do you avoid some of the inherent risks of red meat (such as heart disease), but there’s less fat to drop into the fire. The result: Fewer carcinogens form. (Remember to remove the chicken skin, since it’s high in saturated fat.)
Cook meat in foil. Wrapping meat in a foil packet helps keep fat from dripping into the fire, and to help preventing charring (the more the meat is charred, the more HCAs and PAHs form).
Marinate your meat. Scientists at Lawrence Livermore Lab in California discovered that when you marinate any meat for fifteen minutes beforehand in ingredients like olive oil, balsamic vinegar, or even salsa, you reduce your exposure to PAHs by up to 96 percent. (We wish we’d been in on that delicious experiment.) Try four parts vinegar to 1 part olive, or use this marinade recipe:
RECIPE: Asian-style BBQ Disease Reversal Sauce
In a medium saucepan, combine: 1/4 cup sesame oil, 1 tablespoon finely minced garlic, 3 1/4 cups organic sugar-free, syrup-free ketchup, 1/2 cup organic soy sauce, 1/2 cup nonalcoholic red wine, 1/4 cup lemon juice, 6 teaspoons agave nectar, and 1 tablespoon coarsely ground black pepper. Bring to a simmer. Remove from heat, cool, label, date, and refrigerate. Makes 20 servings.
What’s in it for you?
Per serving (1/4 cup):
Total fat 2.5 g
Saturated fat: 0g
Healthy fats: 0g
Sodium: 270 mg
Calcium: 3 mg
Potassium: 27 mg
Note: This recipe exceeds the sodium criteria for condiments for Cleveland Clinic’s healthy eating standards, so don’t consume it if sodium is an issue for you.
Q: I know I should wear sunscreen—and I do—but I’ve also read that most of the sun damage that leads to cancer occurs in childhood, so how much am I really doing by being careful now?
A: While it takes 30 years for sun damage to reach a peak, UV rays can lead to cancer at any time, so the same mantra that applies to having safe sex applies to having safe sun: “Use Protection.” Sitting in the sun for long periods without sunscreen is the equivalent of sending an engraved invitation to cancer, and not just in exposed areas. (Learn how to check for skin cancer by giving yourself a free skin exam a few times each year.) It seems your skin cells are promiscuous, mating and transferring their DNA to other cells. Also, new findings show that melanoma cells can “creep” along without enteringthe bloodstream. What encourages them to enter the bloodstream and spread? Sunshine exposure.
You should always wear sunscreen when outside, but especially if you’re going to be exposed to a lot of sun, like working at an outdoor job or going on vacation, and if you’re out between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when the UV rays are most powerful and dangerous. Choose sunscreen that says it provides “broad-spectrum” coverage, meaning it protects against UVB and UVA rays, since both can lead to cancer.
We also recommend using a sunscreen with SPF 45 or more (the 45 means that you get forty-five times the amount of protection against UVB rays that you would get if you wore no sunscreen at all). Get in the habit of applying it every day on every exposed surface of your body: hands, face, neck, arms, legs and feet. And spread it on so the thickness is 1 millimeter—yes, get out the ruler to see, it’s thicker than you think!—since that’s the amount you need for full protection.
One more way you should block those rays: Wear sunglasses. Shades do more than make you look cooler than an Alaskan iceberg, they protect your eyes from those nasty UVA and UVB rays, which can lead to eye cancers, cataracts and age-related degeneration. For best protection, follow these strategies:
Find glasses that filter out both kinds of rays (they don’t have to be expensive). Look for a label that states 99 percent or 100 percent UV protection. An eye care pro can test them if you’re unsure. They should be dark enough to reduce glare but not dark enough to distort colors, which could affect your recognition of traffic signals.
People with contact lenses made with UV protection should still wear sunglasses, since a combination approach works best.
Make sure you goggle up with UV-protective eyewear when you’re in the water or working/driving on cement. Your eyes are essentially pummeled by both refractive and reflective light beams that bounce off the water or cement, so you actually have higher UV exposure with these surfaces.
Since UV rays can still enter from the sides and top of sunglasses, it’s smart to wear a hat with a three-inch brim to help block light.
Q: Any tips for natural ways to stay cool when you’re not in the AC?
A: Yes! You can chill in a number of au naturel ways if your AC is on the blink—or if you’re just trying to save on sky-high bills:
Cool your clothes. Soak a t-shirt in the sink, wring it out and put it on. Then sit in a lawn chair (or another chair that lets air through) in front of a fan. Re-wet as it dries.
Cool your food. Freeze grapes, bananas, watermelon or pineapple, then suck or munch on them for a frigid treat. And you know the term “cool as a cucumber”? It works: Slice a thin piece of cold cucumber and stick it in the middle of your forehead. This feels fantastic on a hot day or when stuck in a hot car. (An ice cube or a cold soda can work similarly, though the cucumber is more refreshing.)
Cool your furniture. Place smooth, white fabrics over anything in your house that’s fuzzy—less-dense fibers trap less heat. For example, cover corduroy pillows with white, satin pillowcases, put linen slipcovers over wool sofas, or just throw white sheets over upholstered furniture. Light-colored fabric will reflect heat, and the smooth texture will give you an impression of coolness.
Make your own air conditioner. Put a metal bowl filled with ice or frozen veggie packs in front of a fan so that the air is blowing over the ice. You can also turn on your stove fan (on the ventilator hood) or open up your chimney flue. These will also draw hot air out of the house (and pull cooler evening air into the house).
Cool your home at night. Open windows in the evening so that cooler air is circulating through your home. Also open up interior doors, including closets; if you leave them closed, they store daytime heat and your house won’t cool off as much at night. If you can, get up and close windows and blinds as soon as dawn breaks.
Cool your body before bedtime. Buy a spray bottle, fill it with water, and mist exposed skin for an instant chilling effect. You can also put a cold, wet handkerchief on the back of the neck—the sensor for our body temperature control system is in this area, so you can fool the rest of your body into feeling “cool.”