Officials Share Safety Practices for a Healthy Summer

Sun screen and other protection tools next to a pool.

As summer approaches, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services is emphasizing the importance of safe swimming, heat safety and safe grilling practices to help prevent illness, injury and death.

May is National Water Safety Month, and May 20-26, 2024, is the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 20th annual Healthy and Safe Swimming Week. NCDHHS is encouraging families and individuals to focus on safety as everyone gathers for outdoor activities in anticipation of Memorial Day.

“We want all North Carolinians to enjoy a safe and healthy summer, and that begins with practicing water, heat and grilling safety,” said Dr. Susan Kansagra, NCDHHS Assistant Secretary for Public Health. “Implementing simple steps can significantly enhance water safety and protection from heat-related and foodborne illnesses for everyone.”

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Drowning remains the leading cause of death for children between ages 1-4 nationwide and is preventable. NCDHHS urges everyone to adopt the following safety measures while enjoying North Carolina’s many beaches, lakes, rivers and pools:

  1. Active Supervision: Always keep an eye on children near water. Drowning often occurs quickly and quietly without the dramatic signs seen on TV.
  2. Secure Pool Areas: Ensure gates or doors to pool areas are securely closed and locked when not in use. Never prop open gates or remove pool ladders when the pool is unattended.
  3. Water Awareness: Stay informed about local water conditions, including the presence of strong currents, undertows or sudden depth changes.
  4. Health Precautions: Avoid swimming if you or a family member has diarrhea to prevent the spread of illness.
  5. Water Disinfectant: Make sure any pool or spa water is treated with the proper chemicals to prevent spread of waterborne illness. Local health departments check water disinfectant levels and safety equipment at all public pools, spas and splash pads during the annual pool permitting and inspection process.

According to the 2020 North Carolina Climate Science Report, most parts of the state are expected to see at least two to three additional weeks of very hot days (maximum temperature of 95°F or higher) in the coming years. Prolonged exposure to heat can lead to dehydration, overheating, heat illness and even death. Last year, North Carolina had more than 3,900 emergency department visits for heat-related illness from May to September.

To protect yourself and others from heat-related illness, take the heat seriously and do not ignore danger signs like nausea, headache, dizziness or lightheadedness, confusion, and rapid or erratic pulse. Get to a cool place, drink water slowly and seek medical help if conditions don’t improve. Children, adults 65 and older, pregnant women, athletes, outdoor workers, people without access to air conditioning and those with chronic health conditions are most vulnerable to the health effects of extreme heat.

People can sign up to receive email alerts when the local heat index is forecast to be unhealthy through the NCDHHS Heat Health Alert System available at https://epi.dph.ncdhhs.gov/oee/climate/heat.html.

Grilling is also a common summer activity that could lead to foodborne illness. Most of the top foodborne illnesses reported each year statewide happened May through August. By adhering to the following safety guidelines, North Carolinians can help ensure their gatherings are healthy and enjoyable:

  1. Hygiene First: Always wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before and after handling any food or operating the grill.
  2. Avoid Cross-Contamination: Keep raw meats, poultry and seafood separate from cooked and ready-to-eat foods to prevent bacterial spread.
  3. Cook Thoroughly: Use a food thermometer to check meats are cooked to the correct internal temperatures to kill harmful bacteria.
  4. Proper Food Storage: Promptly refrigerate or freeze leftovers to slow the growth of bacteria. Consume or discard leftovers within three to four days to prevent foodborne illness.
  5. Regular Cleaning: Clean and sanitize grill surfaces and utensils before and after each use to avoid cross-contamination.

For more information on healthy swimming practices, visit the CDC’s Healthy Swimming page, and for tips on safe grilling, visit Safe Grilling Tips. The CDC also has guidance for heat-related illness prevention.

More summer safety tips are also available on the NCDHHS Division of Public Health website: https://www.dph.ncdhhs.gov/blog/2023/05/25/summer-safety-tips-grilling-and-swimming and https://www.dph.ncdhhs.gov/blog/2023/06/28/beat-heat-7-tips-staying-cool.

Written by the NCDHHS.