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Be careful to avoid some common injuries when out hiking this summer.

Avoiding the Top Six Hiking Injuries

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We are lucky to live in New England, because you don’t have to go very far to find a great place to hike. Even right on the Southwestern Vermont Medical Center campus, you can enjoy great trails, part of the Bennington Area Trail System

For a carefree hiking experience, hike with friends or on trails you know well and with daylight to spare. Also take precautions to prevent the most common hiking-related injuries. See the injuries below and the simple tips for preventing them on the trail and treating them when you return home.

* Blisters: One of the most common hiking injuries are blisters, which are most commonly caused by friction between your foot and your footwear. To avoid blisters, make sure your shoes fit snuggly and that you wear socks. If you plan to be hiking in a wet area, ensure your shoes are water resistant, as moisture can enhance the likelihood of blisters. (Bring a change of socks, too.) 

As soon as you feel a painful spot, stop and apply some athletic tape or moleskin. To treat a broken blister, clean it with soap and water, and apply some antibiotic ointment and a Band-Aid. Intact blisters should be left alone, when possible, as draining them increases the risk of infection. You’ll be good as new in time for next weekend’s hike.

* Bug bites: Prepare for the insects that you are likely to encounter by wearing long sleeves and long pants. If you will be walking in tall grass, especially, or going off the trail, you may want to spray your clothes with permethrin and let them dry before wearing them hiking. This defends against ticks and tick-borne illnesses. For other bugs, use your favorite of the many available bug repellants available. Products containing Deet seem to be more effective.

Immediately after getting off the trail, try using a sticky lint roller to get ticks off of your clothes. And once you get home, do a thorough tick check and shower to wash away any ticks. Even with all of these preventive measures, it is still good to know the signs and symptoms of tick-borne illnesses—sometimes a rash, fever, headache, joint pain, and muscle aches or soreness—and see a health care provider right away if these symptoms arise.

* Poison ivy and other poisonous plants: If you stay on well-established trails, you are less likely to contact plants that cause painful and irritating skin rashes. Also, the same long sleeves and pants you are wearing to protect against insects also protect from the poisonous plants you might encounter.

If you ever go off the trail, it is best to learn to identify and avoid these plants. The website has good illustrated articles for identifying the most common skin irritants: poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac. If you do have an encounter, you will likely start feeling symptoms anywhere from several hours to a few days after. As soon as contact is identified, wash thoroughly with soap and water and avoid touching your eyes. You can use over-the-counter anti-itch remedies for small areas, which may help you keep from scratching the irritated area and causing additional skin damage or infection. Avoid products containing lidocaine.

* Twisted ankle: Good-fitting shoes with a tread and ankle protection and being mindful on the trail may help you reduce the risk of twisting your ankle, but some twisting injuries are simply unavoidable. Be especially careful on uneven and slippery surfaces. And if you are unsteady on your feet, think about hiking with a walking stick, poles, or some other stabilizer.

For minor injuries, like a low grade sprain, you may be able to “walk it off.” If it is more severe, take a seat, elevate the injury, and rest for a bit. If the injury is too painful to bear weight, this is when you use the fully charged cell phone you brought along to call for extra help. Hiking on a broken ankle can increase your risk for complications and need for surgery

* Scrapes: If you follow the advice given in this article so far—especially precautions against twisting and insects—you will be pretty well protected against scrapes, which happen most often on bare skin as a result of a fall. If you do get a scrape, wash and dry it once you are off the trail, apply antibiotic ointment, and monitor it for infection.

* Sunburn: With the thick tree cover in New England’s famous deciduous forests, you might think that you are free from the risk of sunburn. Not so. Many trails have long grassy meadows or bare peaks, which—however beautiful—leave you vulnerable to sunburn. Wear sun protective clothing or sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher to protect yourself from sunburn. Sunburns may seem like an inconvenience, but even light burns over the course of time can increase your risk of developing skin cancer.

For more information about hiking safely, I recommend “Hiking: the Merit Badge Series” or “A Woman’s Guide to the Wild.” For trails in our area, visit here and here. Here’s to many injury-free hikes this summer in Bennington and beyond.

Adam Cohen, MD, is the medical director of Emergency Medicine at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center. “Health Matters” is a column meant to educate readers about their personal health, public health matters, and public policy as it affects health care. For more stories like this one, click here. For health system news and updates, follow SVMC on Facebook.

Tags: hiking,   outdoor adventure,   SVMC,   

Protecting Children and Others During a Measles Outbreak

Dr. Marie George

Once a common childhood disease, measles was almost an expected part of growing up. But it wasn't without consequence. Worldwide, up to 2.6 million people died annually from measles every year up until a vaccine was introduced in 1963.

In recent years, some parents have refused to vaccinate their children based on misinformation about side effects of the vaccine.  As a result, the number of unvaccinated children, teens and adults in our communities is on the rise. While those making the choice to not vaccinate believe they're making this decision solely on behalf of themselves or their children, they're actually impacting the health of others. Sometimes with deadly consequences.

How is it spread? Who is at risk?

The measles virus is highly contagious and spreads easily. Spread by close personal contact, coughing, or sneezing, the virus can remain active in the air or on a surface for up to two hours after it has been transmitted.

That means that any unvaccinated individual — including infants and those with compromised immune systems — can get sick when entering a space where an infected person was even hours before. Infected individuals can then go on to spread the illness days before they show any signs of the disease.

How to protect those at risk

Measles vaccines are by far the best possible protection you can give your child. Two doses are 97 percent effective and the potential side effects are rare and not nearly as scary as suggested by a lot of popular media. If they appear at all, side effects are usually a sore arm, a rash, or maybe a slight fever. Claims that the vaccine causes autism have been undeniably proven to be false.

As for when to get your child vaccinated, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Family Physicians all recommend children receive the measles vaccine at age 12 to 15 months and again at 4 to 6 years old. Children can receive the second dose earlier as long as it is at least 28 days after the first dose.

How about adults?

Because the risk of death from measles is higher for adults than it is for children, teens and adults who have not been vaccinated should take steps to protect themselves. "The vaccine can be provided in two doses within 28 days of each other. This is particularly important for those planning travel overseas or to areas in the United States where outbreaks are occurring.

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