It’s no wonder that camping is rising in popularity (2018 North American
Camping Report), as busy, over-programmed families seek activities that
allow them to unplug and recharge their emotional and physical health.
Connecting with nature can be good for the body and mind, but there are
some health and safety tips to keep in mind before you pitch a tent at
your favorite campground.
1. PREVENT BUG BITES
Mosquitoes bite even during the day and can spread diseases like West Nile
Virus, which can make you sick or, in rare cases, cause death. Tick bites
can also cause serious illness, such as Lyme Disease or Tick-borne Relapsing
Fever. To help protect yourself from potentially dangerous insect bites:
• Apply insect repellent containing DEET to exposed skin and be sure
to follow directions on the package.
• Check for ticks daily and remove them promptly.
• Wear long sleeves, pants, and other light-colored clothing while
camping, especially if you plan to hike, which will also help you spot
ticks more easily.
2. KNOW HOW TO HANDLE SNAKE BITES
Of California's 33 species of snake, six are venomous rattlesnakes.
While these snakes will go out of their way to avoid human contact, they
will strike if they feel threatened, so it is best to give them distance
and avoid them at all costs. If a snake does bite you or someone else
in your group:
• Try to remember the color and shape of the snake, which can help
with treatment of the snake bite.
• Dial 911 and seek medical attention immediately.
• Keep the person who was bit still and calm, laying or sitting them
with the bite below the level of the heart – this can slow the spread of venom.
• Cover the bite with a clean, dry dressing.
• DO NOT apply a tourniquet, slash the wound with a knife, suck out
the venom, apply ice or immerse the wound in water, or drink alcohol as
a pain killer.
3. PROTECT AGAINST THE SUN
While many people enjoy basking in the sun during camping trips, the risk
of heat stroke and sunburn are a real possibility, especially here in
sunny Southern California. In fact, extreme heat causes more than 600
deaths each year in the United States (Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention). To protect yourself from the sun’s UV rays and extreme heat:
• Use sunscreen SPF 15 or higher, with both UVA and UVB (broad spectrum)
• Seek shade, especially during midday hours, when the sun’s
rays are strongest.
• Wear a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses, and layers of light-weight,
light-colored, and loose-fitting clothing.
• Drink plenty of alcohol-free and sugar-free fluids, preferably water.
Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink!
• If you do get sunburned, seek medical attention if the burn covers
more than 15 percent of your body, you experience dehydration, the pain
lasts longer than 48 hours, you have a high fever, or your skin is blistering.
4. PRACTICE FOOD SAFETY AND COOKING SAFETY
Cooking over a campfire or propane stove can make your vacation more memorable,
but it can also lead to hazardous situations, such as burns, carbon monoxide
poisoning and improper food preparation or storage.
Pack a food thermometer and make sure foods reach a safe temperature. Keep
foods properly iced or refrigerated and don’t leave food out beyond
If someone gets burned:
• Apply soothing lotion that contains aloe vera or 0.5 percent hydrocortisone
cream to burned areas to relieve pain and swelling.
• For severe burns, cover with a clean, dry cloth to reduce risk of
infection and seek medical attention immediately.
• NEVER put ice or butter on the burned area as these measures will
not help and may damage the tissue even more.
5. BE PREPARED
Always prepare for the unexpected. There are a variety of scenarios that
could arise while you are camping, so consider bringing along a solar
charger for your cell phone to ensure you are always able to call for
help. Be sure to pack a first-aid kit, which should include:
• Aspirin, antibiotic ointment, hydrocortisone ointment and antiseptic wipes
• A variety of compress dressings, bandages and gauze
• Nonlatex gloves
• Scissors and tweezers
• A breathing barrier
• A three-day supply of all medicines, at a minimum
• Extra medical supplies like syringes, a walking cane, or hearing
aids with batteries
MOST IMPORTANTLY: Before a camping trip, always be sure to check where
the nearest urgent care and Emergency Department are to your campground
in case of any serious accidents, injuries or illnesses.
By James Kim, M.D., Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center Emergency Department