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24 Hazards That Are Trying to Ruin Your Summer

How you and your family can stay safe from tick bites, high cooling bills, power outages, pickleball injuries and more


spinner image riff on a first aid kit containing bug spray a water bottle gardening gloves seeds and a digging spade a compass and a pickleball paddle and ball
ANDRE RUCKER

If ever there was a time when we could all use more joy, it’s summer 2023. So why are we pointing out all the risks that come with the season? Simple: By being well briefed in advance, you can enjoy yourself more — confident that, in the unlikely chance something dicey comes up, you’ll be prepared for it.

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To help, we’ve consulted professionals with expertise in all aspects of summertime activity. Heed their suggestions, be careful out there, and make this a fabulous summer for you and your loved ones.

Stay safe around the house

Prepare yourself for extended power outages

In early May, AccuWeather was forecasting hotter-than-average summer temperatures over much of the U.S., along with moderate to severe chances of extreme weather in the Northeast and Upper Midwest. Combine that with overloaded electrical grids and you get conditions ripe for blackouts, brownouts and power shortages.

  • Because water is critical when the power goes off, store in your home at least 3 to 6 gallons of bottled water per person — enough to last three days — along with chlorine dioxide tablets to purify additional water, if available nearby. 
  • Be sure you have a manual can opener in your kitchen, since you’ll likely be eating out of the pantry. 
  • Also have on hand flashlights, battery-powered lanterns and spare batteries; solar-rechargeable lanterns are also a good idea in sunny areas. But skip the candles; one study found that 24 percent of fatal home candle fires happened during outages.

Tony Nester, survival instructor and author of When the Grid Goes Down: Disaster Preparations and Survival Gear for Making Your Home Self-Reliant

Protect your home from fire risks 

Home fires, which spike around July 4 but can happen in any season, burn with astonishing speed nowadays, in part because of open floor plans and synthetic home-goods materials.

  • On average, you have three minutes or less to escape, versus about 17 minutes a few decades ago. If you’re on an upper floor and have only one staircase, you need an alternate exit plan — one that might require readily available gear, like an emergency ladder. 
  • Check all smoke alarms at least twice a year; they should be on the ceiling or high on walls on every level of the house, inside every bedroom and outside sleeping areas. 
  • Sleep with your bedroom door closed to buy some protection against a fire’s smoke, carbon monoxide and soaring temperatures. 
  • Finally, don’t cause fires. While smoking is the leading cause of fire deaths in older adults, cooking fires are the leading cause of fire-­related ­injury. When pans are on the stove at any temperature, stay close and keep a watch on them. 

Steve Kerber, executive director, UL Fire Safety Research Institute

Protect your home from bug infestations

Climate change means pest migration. Nearly half of participants in a 2022 survey said their home had sustained damage from insect pests like termites and wood-boring beetles.

  • The highly destructive Formosan termite is expanding its range in warm areas of the U.S. Regular termite inspections and professional treatment as needed can prevent or knock out an infestation.
  • Call for help if you see warning signs such as pencil-thin mud tubes along your home’s foundation or discarded wings after a termite swarm. 
  • Bedbug infestations rise in summer too. If you travel, keep these bugs from hitching a ride home by inspecting hotel mattresses for dark or reddish spots, keeping your suitcase on a luggage rack and unpacking clothes directly into the washing machine when you return home. 

Blake Layton, entomology specialist, Mississippi State University Extension Service

How you can prevent crazy cooling bills

spinner image a house made out of inflatable pool toy material with the air coming out of its stopper
Following a few easy tips can help you save on energy bills this summer.
ANDRE RUCKER

Because up to 30 percent of a cooling system’s energy usage can be sapped by leaks and cracks, use caulk or weather stripping to keep your air-conditioned air inside.

  • Help your home circulate by moving furniture, plants and objects that block air registers and vents. 
  • Consider buying an internet-connected smart thermostat, which can save you up to 10 percent on your annual cooling bill; you might save even more if your utility company offers a rebate on the purchase. 
  • Close curtains and blinds on sun-facing windows to block rays that naturally increase indoor temperatures. 
  • And when you’re warming up food at home, use a microwave oven if possible; it cooks efficiently and minimizes heat buildup. 

Adam Cooper, managing director, consumer solutions, Edison Electric Institute

Protect yourself from grilling mishaps

More than 19,000 burned barbecue chefs and their hungry guests end up in emergency rooms every year, and an average of 4,900 structures are damaged by fire — most from gas grill fires.

  • Before the start of grilling season, check the tank hose and connection points for leaks or breaks; spray them with a light solution of soap and water while the propane tank valve is open. If you see bubbles, shut off the tank, because there may be a leak. 
  • If you smell gas when lighting the grill, turn off the tank, then the grill. 
  • Keep your grill clean, since built-up grease and drippings cause many fires. Should a grill catch fire, shut the lid to cut off the oxygen supply, if you can do so safely; then close off the gas tank and turn off the grill. 
  • Don’t use a fire extinguisher, which can spread flames. 

Susan McKelvey, spokesperson, National Fire Protection Association

Watch out for home-repair scams

Defend yourself against tricky summer scams

Knowing the red flags once helped us spot scams. But these days, many scams are virtually unrecognizable as scams, such as fake travel sites and messages from people pretending to be relatives trapped in foreign jails. We face sophisticated criminal enterprises, so it’s more important than ever to shore up our defenses.

  • Password-protect laptops, tablets and smartphones. Use biometrics, such as facial recognition or fingerprints, where possible.
  • Set your electronic devices to automatically install updates for operating and protective software.
  • Do not click links from emails or texts; type the web address you know to be legit into your browser.
  • Install a virtual private network (VPN) if you use public Wi-Fi.
  • Answer calls only from people you know; if unsure, let them go to voicemail.
  • The biggest red flag is when an unexpected communication causes a highly emotional reaction. That’s the calling card of today’s scammers. Disengage and talk to someone you trust about what’s at issue.

Kathy Stokes, AARP’s director of fraud prevention and a nationally recognized expert in fighting fraud

Summer typically brings an army of scam contractors going door-to-door. They’ll claim they just happen to be repaving a driveway nearby and have leftover material, or they’ll offer to repave your driveway for a really low price. If you bite, here’s the likely outcome: They will take your money and do the work shoddily, fail to finish it or not do anything at all.

  • Beware of anyone offering to do work unsolicited. Instead, do the shopping and picking yourself. 
  • Get referrals from family, friends and others, and then get multiple bids on the job. 
  • Before agreeing to work with one, verify the contractor is insured and complies with licensing and registration required by your state. 
  • Scammers target older homeowners. The Better Business Bureau says consumers are left with a median loss of $1,500. 

Tobie Stanger, senior editor, Consumer Reports

Protect yourself from gardening accidents 

Mishaps involving lawnmowers and other power garden equipment sent more than 112,000 adults to U.S. emergency rooms in 2021. But handheld tools pose a hazard too: They injured another 43,000 people.

  • Don’t work outside if you’re distracted, overheated or overtired. 
  • Don’t let grandkids ride on the mower with you. 
  • Shut all gear down completely before cleaning or adjusting. 
  • Take frequent breaks and stay hydrated, especially on hot days and while doing strenuous work. 
  • Wear gloves when using hand tools, since mature skin is less resistant to cuts, scrapes and punctures. 
  • Avoid working in uncomfortable body positions; for example, pot plants at a table or gardening bench rather than on the ground. 
  • Finally, put a mat or folded blanket under your knees when kneeling. 

Alyssa Spence, associate director, North Carolina Agromedicine Institute

Stay safe around town

Watch out for distracted drivers

There’s no way to know if the drivers around you are texting or eating lunch or both. Your best strategy to avoid deadly accidents is to rely on defensive driving best practices.

  • Use the “what if” strategy: As you are scanning the road, ask yourself, “What if that car runs that red light?” or “What if the driver ahead of me is reading a text?” Doing this allows you to respond to the situation and choose the most appropriate defensive action, such as covering the brake and/or increasing your following distance. 
  • Speaking of phones, set yours to “do not disturb” while ­driving, and put it in a spot where it won’t slide around but will still be accessible in an emergency. 

Ryan Pietzsch, driver safety educator, National Safety Council

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How you can prevent road rage

Start with prevention, not provocation.

  • Drive with common courtesy: Let others merge or change lanes, drive at a speed comparable to those around you, use your turn signals and don’t tailgate. 
  • Tap (don’t blare) your horn only as a last resort. Show restraint if a fellow driver does something illegal or inconsiderate. 
  • Avoid angry hand gestures, honking or cursing. 
  • If you find yourself dealing with a hostile or ­aggressive driver, don’t engage. Keep driving calmly. If it escalates further, get to a public place, such as a police or fire station. Stay in your car. If you feel at risk, call 911. 

William Van Tassel, manager of driver training, AAA

Protect yourself from a stranger behaving erratically

If you ever find yourself in this situation:

  • Remain calm. 
  • Move away if you want to and are able to do so casually. 
  • If you, the person or someone else is in immediate danger, call 911 or, even better, 988 — a new national mental health emergency number. If you call 911, tell the dispatcher it’s a mental health emergency and ask for a mental health support response team. 
  • If the person confronts you directly, use a quiet and respectful tone; reacting with high-intensity emotion may escalate the situation. A compassionate statement from you — such as “I’m sorry you’re going through this” — may help calm the person down. 

Michael Flaum, M.D., immediate past president, American Association for Community Psychiatry

Avoid getting hit by a car

More than three-quarters of pedestrian ­fatalities in our research happened after dark, compared with less than a quarter during daylight, dawn or dusk.

  • When crossing the street, use only designated crosswalks, which often have better lighting to make you more visible to drivers. 
  • If you absolutely have to cross a street somewhere without artificial lighting, try using your cellphone’s flashlight. Shine it ahead of you to make yourself more visible to drivers. 
  • If you regularly walk for exercise or have a dog that you take for walks, consider investing in clothing that makes you more visible. Alternatively, buy some reflective tape that can be easily applied to a jacket, shoes, dog leash or collar. 

Pam Shadel Fischer, senior director of external engagement, Governors Highway Safety Association

How you can avoid deer collisions

spinner image yellow caution road sign showing a deer riding a motor scooter
Stay alert while driving, especially at dusk and dawn when deer are most active.
ANDRE RUCKER

Deer are most active at dusk and dawn, so that’s when your awareness should be highest. But deer-vehicle collisions can happen to anyone at any time. (In 2021, 18 percent of reported Michigan vehicle crashes — 52,218 of them — were deer-related.)

  • If you’re driving by mountains, woods or agricultural fields, there are probably deer in and around those habitats. 
  • Take wildlife crossing signs seriously; moderating your speed gives you more time to react. 
  • Stay alert and don’t get distracted. If it looks like you’re about to hit a deer, don’t swerve. Hitting the deer will often do a lot less damage than what could happen from swerving, like going off the road or crashing into a telephone pole or another car. 
  • Slow down if you can; if there are no drivers behind you, brake hard. 

Chad Stewart, deer biologist, Michigan Department of Natural Resources

Stay safe when you travel

When shots are fired

An office, a mall, a library: Shootings can happen anywhere. Active shooter situations are often over in minutes, before law enforcement can arrive. So prepare yourself with these recommendations from the U.S. Department of Homeland ­Security.

  • Run. If leaving is possible, plan an escape route and flee regardless of whether others agree to follow. Leave your belongings behind. Do not attempt to move wounded people. Call 911 only when you’re safe.
  • Hide. If evacuation is not possible, find a place to conceal yourself. It should be out of view and provide protection if shots are fired, such as a room with a locked door. If you can, blockade the door with furniture. Turn off any source of noise, like a cellphone.
  • Fight. Take action against the shooter only as a last resort. Throw items and improvise weapons in an effort to disrupt and incapacitate the shooter.

When law enforcement arrives … ​immediately put down any items, keep your hands visible and raise your arms. Follow instructions. Refrain from making quick movements toward officers or holding on to them for safety. ​

Niamh Rowe

Watch out for a dangerous crowd

Summertime is festival time: stadium concerts, fairs and crowded street parties. So please remember that the crush that killed more than 150 people at a South Korean street party last fall went from exciting to deadly in minutes.

  • To reduce your chances of falling over or tripping, wear shoes that protect your feet, not high heels or sandals. 
  • As you arrive, take a moment to look around and plot an escape just in case: Where are the entrances and exits that may be closer and less trafficked than where you came in? 
  • If a crowd becomes uncomfortably dense, bend your arms and lift them in front of you like a boxer. Then lock your hands, creating a cage to protect your chest and lungs; many crowd-disaster deaths result from chest compression that prevents people from breathing. 
  • Finally, stay on your feet. Don’t risk being forced to the ground while trying to pick up a phone or handbag. 

Martyn Amos, professor of computer science at Northumbria University in the U.K., and coauthor of studies on crowd behavior

Protect yourself from room bandits

Keep yourself and your belongings safe on overnight getaways.

  • Before you book a room, make sure your lodging is in the safest part of the city.
  • Call ahead or email hotel management to ask about security precautions: For example, what controls are there on access to the main entrance and to room areas?
  • At the hotel, take a few simple precautions. Put the Do Not Disturb sign on your door even when you are not in the room, to make it appear occupied. Use the safe in your room for locking up valuables and important documents such as passports. Finally, never share your room number with anyone outside your travel party. 

Henning Snyman, security director, South Atlantic U.S. Region, International SOS

How you can prevent pickpockets

A few precautions to keep you safe while you’re out and about:

  • Use a crossbody anti-theft purse with zipper locks or a hidden waist wallet.
  • Don’t keep anything in your back pocket. 
  • Remove anything from your wallet that isn’t necessary to carry while you travel. 
  • Keep photos of your passport, credit cards and critical information in a password-protected folder on your phone or online storage account. 
  • Make sure any travel partner has credit cards with account numbers different from yours, so you can still make purchases if stolen cards are canceled. 

Kevin Coffey, retired detective, Los Angeles Police Department, and author of Traveler Beware! An Undercover Cop’s Guide to Avoiding: Pickpockets, Luggage Theft & Travel Scams

Stay safe outdoors

How to prevent heat-related illnesses

More people 50 and older are taking diuretics, antihistamines or beta-blockers, each of which can increase the risk of heat-related illnesses in the summer.

  • If your urine is dark yellow, you’re drying out. Drinking water helps, but an electrolyte drink, such as Gatorade, Powerade or Vitaminwater, is better; sip it regularly until your urine is clear and more frequent.
  • Get out of the heat upon any signs of heat exhaustion, including heavy sweating, thirst, pale or clammy skin, headache or dizziness. In as little as 30 minutes, heat exhaustion can progress to disabling or deadly heat stroke, which can damage internal organs. Symptoms can include hot, dry, red skin; profuse sweating; confusion; slurred speech; or loss of consciousness. 
  • Move anyone with these more advanced symptoms to a cooler location immediately, then call 911. 
  • Bring down the person’s body temperature by pouring cool water on their skin or getting them into a cold shower or bath. 
  • Give the person an electrolyte drink if available. Do you live alone? Ask someone to check on you twice a day when the National Weather Service issues excessive-heat warnings. 

James Williams, emergency medicine physician, Texas Tech University Health Sciences School of Medicine

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Avoid ocean hazards

Sharks get all the attention, but the real danger at the beach is an unexpected rip current, which can sweep even the strongest swimmers away from shore. More than 80 percent of U.S. beach lifeguard rescues are of people caught in a rip current.

  • If you’re in this situation, don’t panic and don’t exhaust yourself trying to fight your way back to shore; call and wave for help, then try to swim parallel to the shore to get out of the current. 
  • Another water hazard is shore breaks — big waves that break close to shore, knocking swimmers down. Be honest about your swimming capabilities: If the ocean is rough and your capacity to swim and hold your breath is limited, stay out of the water until it’s calmer. 

Stephen P. Leatherman, professor of coastal science at Florida International University and coauthor of Aquatic Accidents

How you can prevent tick bites

This could be a bad year for tick-related diseases. The ticks that carry Lyme disease thrive in warm and humid weather, and many areas of the country have had an exceptionally mild winter, with plenty of precipitation.

  • While tall grasses and wooded areas are prime tick locations, in nearly 75 percent of reported Lyme disease cases, bites occurred in people’s own backyards. 
  • Before going into the woods, put on light-colored clothing and a long-sleeved shirt, tuck your pants into your socks, and use DEET or another tick repellent. 
  • Back home, do a thorough tick check on your body; quick removal of a tick can prevent transmission of the disease. Use a pair of tweezers you keep on hand for just this task; search online for the best way to remove, based on the tick’s location and size. 
  • Finally, after spending time outdoors, immediately put your clothing in a tight plastic bag and as soon as feasible, throw it into a dryer and run a hot cycle. 

Goudarz Molaei, chief scientist and director, Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station Passive Tick Surveillance Program

How you can prevent pickleball injuries

spinner image pickleball paddle with a crack on it covered by a band aid
Making a few tweaks to your pickleball game can help lower your risk of injury.
ANDRE RUCKER

More than 60 percent of injuries sustained by pickleball players 60 and older resulted from slips, trips, falls or dives, according to our recent study of people who went to U.S. emergency departments. Wrist fractures are more common among women, while men are more likely to develop strains and sprains.

  • Wear shoes that support lateral motion, like those for tennis — not running shoes designed for forward motion. 
  • A lesson can help you learn the correct technique, and you might want to wear a wrist brace. ​
  • To prevent strains and sprains, warm up for five or 10 minutes before playing. Loosen up your large ­lower-body muscles and shoulders. 

COVID: It’s still a problem

Plenty of people are still getting COVID, even if the pandemic has passed. To stay alive and out of the hospital, top off your vaccines. Adults 65 and older should have had the two-dose COVID-19 vaccine primary series, plus at least one bivalent booster. If you haven’t been boosted and you got the primary series at least two months ago, make that appointment now. If you’ve already received your first bivalent booster, consider getting a second; in April, federal government agencies said you’re eligible if you are at least 65 and got your first bivalent booster at least four months ago, or if you’re immunocompromised and got the booster at least two months ago.

Keep COVID tests at home. Some private insurers may still cover the cost, and Medicaid expects to provide free tests for another year.

Finally, make a Paxlovid plan. Ask your doctor how quickly you can get a prescription, including if you test positive on a weekend or vacation. Paxlovid should be taken within five days of symptom onset, even if you’re feeling well. Its purpose isn’t to help you feel better; it’s to prevent death.

Amesh Adalja, M.D., infectious disease expert at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health

Charles DiMaggio, director of injury research, NYU Langone Health, and coauthor of a study on pickleball injuries

Protect yourself from foodborne illnesses

Summertime is peak season for foodborne illnesses, thanks to bacteria-friendly high temperatures.

  • To keep your picnic from being ruined by symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea and stomach cramps, keep food ­refrigerated or in ice-filled coolers during transport and until it’s time to eat; re-chill after one hour on the serving table and use a separate cooler for drinks. 
  • Be cautious with foods that could harbor listeria, such as cold cuts, unpasteurized soft cheeses and store-made tuna salads. 
  • If you’re grilling, make a meat thermometer your go-to food-safety tool; cook burgers to an internal temperature of 160 degrees F, steaks to 145 degrees, poultry to 165 degrees. 
  • At home in the kitchen, extend your cleaning beyond countertops and cutting boards; cabinet handles, spice containers and kitchen towels can harbor microorganisms too. 

Londa Nwadike, extension associate professor of food safety for Kansas State University and the University of Missouri

How you can prevent beestings

Hot, dry weather this summer is expected to increase the presence of stinging insects, including wasps, hornets and yellowjackets.

  • At picnics, cover your food and drink. 
  • Don’t wear sweet-smelling lotions or perfumes outside. If a stinging insect comes your way, calmly back up. 
  • Don’t swat, which will make it feel threatened. 
  • Is it a swarm? Run straight to an enclosed place, like a car with the windows up, to protect yourself. 
  • If you do get stung, pull the stinger out with your fingernails as quickly as possible, since the longer you leave it in, the more venom passes into your skin. 
  • Apply a cool compress to the area. 
  • Most stings don’t require medical care, but if the sting leads to nausea, an all-over rash, breathing difficulties or dizziness, call 911; these are symptoms of anaphylaxis, a whole-body allergic reaction. 

Nathan P. Charlton, M.D., member of the American Red Cross Scientific Advisory Council

How you can prevent sunburn

Nothing spoils summer fun like a sunburn. Plus, even one burn can increase your risk of developing skin cancer.

  • Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher, but don’t make the biggest sunscreen mistake: thinking it lasts all day. Reapply it every 80 to 90 minutes — sooner if you swim or sweat.
  • Wear clothing with an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) number on the label, a broad-brimmed hat and sunglasses. 
  • Staying out of the sun from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. will also help. 
  • Call your doctor for severe burns with blisters, fever, chills, confusion or nausea. 

Gregory G. Papadeas, osteopathic physician and dermatologist, Aurora, Colorado

How to not get lost on a hike

With its built-in map, compass and GPS, your smartphone may be your best friend on a hike. But it also has a battery and requires a wireless signal; relying on it alone could turn your outing from bad to disastrous.

  • Carry an old-fashioned compass and learn how to use it. 
  • Ditto for a paper map or printed trail guide. 
  • Always let someone know where you’re going into the woods and what time you expect to come out. 
  • Stay on marked trails. Seriously, do not step off the trail for any distance at any time for any reason. 

Tom Hanrahan, former registered Maine guide and author of Your Maine Lands

How you can avoid poison ivy

Poison ivy is thriving thanks to rising soil temperatures and carbon dioxide in the air.

  • If you think you’ve been exposed to poison ivy, use soap and water to wash body parts that may have come in contact with it. 
  • Also wash your clothing and any tools you’ve used, since ­urushiol (a skin irritant released by poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac) can cling to items for years. 
  • Treat mild cases with topical hydrocortisone and calamine lotion. 
  • If the rash is severe, spread over a wide area or intensely itchy, see a doctor, who will most likely prescribe topical or oral steroids. 

Donald Belsito, M.D., professor of dermatology, Columbia University Irving Medical Center in New York City

Editor’s note: All entries are based on interviews with the experts cited. The journalists who conducted the interviews and wrote the entries are Ben Abramson, Michelle Crouch, Rick DeBruhl, Margie Zable Fisher, Sari Harrar, Jessica Migala, Veronica Stoddart and Sharon Waters.

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