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Heat stress and sunburns are real summer threats
STARKVILLE, Miss. -- Boating in the summertime can seem like the perfect way to escape the heat, but it is important for everyone enjoying outdoor activities to be aware of sun safety.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated half of young adult Americans get sunburned every year. The CDC estimates that extreme heat kills an average of 658 Americans annually, which is more than the total number killed by tornadoes, lightning, hurricanes and floods combined.
Heat stress claims thousands of victims annually. David Buys, Mississippi State University Extension Service health specialist, said the sun’s heat can cause illnesses, such as heat stroke, heat cramps and heat exhaustion, that are often life threatening.
“Mississippians should be alert to the threat of too much sun in hot, humid weather,” Buys said. “Good judgement and some simple precautions will help avoid possible dangers related to the heat.”
The risk of heat illness exists when the heat index, which is based on both temperature and humidity, is 100 degrees or more. This heat index is reached when temperatures are above 90 degrees and humidity is 60 percent or higher.
“The heat may overcome the body’s ability to regulate internal body temperature at a safe level,” he said.
If a person has become too hot, first-aid steps include stopping activity, improving air circulation around the person with a fan or air conditioner, and sponging the body with cool water. But the best thing is prevention.
When the weather is hot, Buys recommends avoiding heavy physical exertion in the middle of the day, wearing a broad-brimmed hat and light-colored clothing that reflect heat and allow air circulation, and drinking at least 8 ounces of water every hour when performing light activities or every 15 minutes when exercising.
Sunscreen with a sun protection factor, or SPF, of 30 or greater protects an individual from sunburn, but it must be applied correctly and frequently. Sunburns are possible even on cloudy days and with everyday exposure.
Jim McAdory, Extension agent to the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, held a recent boating education event at Lake Pushmataha in Neshoba County that emphasized sun safety as well.
“Last year at our wildlife jamboree, we had a boat ride at the event, and the person in charge of the ride asked the tribal kids how many had ever been on a boat ride,” McAdory said. “More than 90 percent of kids under 15 stated it was their first time in a boat. This year, we wanted to introduce tribal youth to boating and most importantly, safe boating.”
Being on the water puts a person out in the sun, and McAdory said sun safety education was a perfect fit for the event.
“There’s not much shade on the water, and you can get sunburn from both directions,” he said. “If we can educate tribal members on sun-related skin diseases and the importance of eye protection from the UV rays, that will be a great start at this event.”
Sun safety education is important for all Mississippians. McAdory said tribal members are not the only ones who think people of color are immune to skin cancer.
“All skin types must be protected from overexposure to sun,” he said.
McAdory partnered with the tribe’s Choctaw Wildlife and Parks Department, the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Mississippi Partnership for Comprehensive Cancer Control in offering his boating and sun safety event May 28.