Summertime and Chronic Illness

Summer and being outside sounds like lots of fun, but for people with chronic illness it can present several challenges and health risks. Two of the most obvious threats are food safety and heat.

The upcoming barbeques or summer celebrations can end with nasty repercussions if some very common sense health and safety precautions are not taken. Food preparation and safety are important to remember as foodborne illness or “food poisoning” will impact 1 In 6 people consuming contaminated food or drinks. The Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC) has provided some very useful information to help with protecting from foodborne illness.

Who is at risk for foodborne illness?
Foodborne illness can affect anyone who eats contaminated food. Certain groups like pregnant women, older adults, and people with chronic illnesses are more likely to get sick from contaminated food.

What are the symptoms of a foodborne illness?
Common symptoms include upset stomach, abdominal cramps, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, fever, and dehydration. Symptoms can be mild to severe.

What can you do to protect yourself and your family from food poisoning?
Follow these steps to prevent foodborne illness: clean, separate, cook, chill, and report.

Clean: Germs can survive in your hand, utensils, and cutting boards.

    • Wash hands often with soap and water for 20 seconds, scrubbing the back of your hands, between fingers, and under nails. To prevent cross contamination, make sure to wash your hands each and every time after handling raw meat.
    • Wash surfaces and utensils with soap and hot water after each use.
    • Wash fruits and vegetables before you peel or cut them.
    • Do not wash meat or poultry. This can cause bacteria from the raw meat and poultry juices to splash and spread to other foods, utensils, and surfaces.

Separate: Germs are spread by cross-contamination.

    • Use separate cutting boards, plates, and utensils for uncooked produce (e.g., vegetables, fruits) and uncooked meat, poultry, and seafood.
    • Separate meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs from other foods in your shopping cart at the grocery store.
    • Separate meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs from all other foods in your refrigerator.

Cook: Cook to the right temperature.

    • Use a food thermometer to make sure food is cooked to the right temperature.
    • Internal temperatures: whole meats at 145°F; ground meats at 160°F; and poultry at 165°F.

Chill: Refrigerate promptly and properly.

    • Refrigerate perishable food within two hours.

Report: Call your healthcare professional if you think you have food poisoning.

    • Call 911 if it’s an emergency.
    • Contact your local health department if you think you or someone you know became ill from eating a certain food from a restaurant.[1]

Hydration and avoiding too much sun or overheating is important advice for everyone. If you are at risk with a chronic illness and/or disability the importance of avoiding dehydration and heat exhaustion are critical.

The most dangerous heat-related illness is “heatstroke,” where the body’s thermoregulation processes fail to keep the body’s temperature at 98.6°, and eventually start to shut down. According to the CDC,

Heat stroke is the most serious heat-related disorder. It occurs when the body becomes unable to control its temperature: the body’s temperature rises rapidly, the sweating mechanism fails, and the body is unable to cool down. When heat stroke occurs, the body temperature can rise to 106 degrees Fahrenheit or higher within 10 to 15 minutes. Heat stroke can cause death or permanent disability if emergency treatment is not given.

Extreme heat events can contribute to deaths in other ways, such as exacerbating cardiovascular disease or kidney function problems. And with all of these, certain populations are especially vulnerable. The young, the elderly, and those with existing medical conditions are more susceptible to heat-related illness. Occupational and living situations also have an influence: those undertaking more strenuous physical activity, or people who live in housing with poor ventilation or no AC, will also be hit harder than others.

Heat-related health concerns especially touch people with disabilities for physiological reasons: for example, people with multiple sclerosis have been shown to experience greater pain and fatigue on hot days, and some people with spinal cord injuries (like myself) don’t have the ability to sweat as a means of cooling down. And socioeconomic factors, such as disproportionate rates of poverty and substandard housing for people with disabilities, create other problems; notably lower AC ownership or, if housing has AC, not enough money to run it regularly. Some PWD only have physiological vulnerabilities (i.e., someone with MS that has household AC) and some only have socioeconomic vulnerabilities (non-heat-sensitive disability but without AC), but those with both are at especially high risk for heat-related illness.[2]

Summer time can be a wonderful time, but if you are going to be outside or exposed to high temperatures, then try and do the following: stay hydrated, limit sun and heat exposure, wear sun block and be careful on what’s being served on the grill.

Have a Safe and Healthy Summer!