Note: This blog post is intended to increase your awareness to potential risks to engaging in nature. It is not meant to be totally inclusive and may not reflect the most current information in your area. Please consult your local experts as suggested in this blog, or your primary care provider, for more specific information on your local surroundings and/or places you plan to visit. This post was updated with new CDC findings in May 2018.
Remember when Dorothy, Toto, the Tin Man and the Scarecrow made their journey through the forest in classic movie The Wizard Of Oz? What were they afraid of? Lions and Tigers and Bears.
Most of us today don't have to concern ourselves with the potential of meeting big predators when we venture into nature. Consulting with local park rangers, however, is always a good idea before going into raw nature that is unfamiliar to us.
Today the 'predators' have become much smaller, but their bite can cause extreme suffering and can be potentially life threatening. The CDC released an update on how this issue is worsening: LINK. Let's take a look at some of these 'predators', and ways we may want to protect ourselves, so we can reap the many health and wellness benefits nature offers.
My guess is most of us have experienced being the tasty treat for a mosquito. Generally we are left with an itchy, red bump somewhere on our skin after they have snacked on us. Today, however, due to a warmer climate and more global traveling, mosquitos are carrying diseases far beyond their original homes. Zika virus, West Nile virus, Chikungunya virus, dengue, malaria and yellow fever are some of the mosquito diseases we may need to be aware of. Some of these diseases can cause neurological damage, birth defects, long-term arthritic symptoms and death. For more information on these diseases and how to try and protect yourself from them, you may want to consult with the CDC's information on mosquitoes. It also includes recommendations on insect repellents.1
Ticks can be as tiny as the size of a grain of sand, yet they can lead to debilitating disease. Early identification and treatment is key. Diseases such as lyme disease, ehrlichiosis are spreading, as is a potentially fatal, lesser known tick-borne illness called Powassan. NPR did a feature on the increase of tick borne diseases and ways to try to prevent being a victim which you may want to read. 2
Decreased wild habitat, climate change and an increased number of people on the planet create a recipe for potential increase in snakebites. According to the World Health Organization, out of more than 3000 species of snakes in the world, some 600 are venomous and over 200 are considered to be medically important. 3 Snakes may be found throughout most of the planet. This spring, North Carolina noted a significant spike in snakebites thought to be due to an unusually warm winter. 4
Being aware of our local natural environment and investigating into areas that we plan to visit is key to preventing diseases and untoward encounters with wildlife. Often simple precautions such as wearing proper outdoor attire; hiking boots, long pants tucked in socks, hats, long sleeve shirts and proper spray can help avoid turning a wonderful day outside into a nightmare. Be sure to check with local public health officials, the World Health Organization, the Center for Disease Control, and/or park rangers before venturing into the unknown.
Be sure to protect pets as well. Consulting with local veterinarians is a prudent way to prevent your pets from getting injured or diseases from local 'predators' that may affect pets differently.
If you do experience any unusual symptoms after spending time outdoors in nature-fever, achy, exhaustion, skin rashes just to name a few, be sure to consult with a medical professional immediately. Early intervention is often key to preventing long-term complications or death.
Most experts agree that the health benefits of being outdoors; decrease obesity, improved mental health, and overall feeling of well being, 6 far outweigh the risks. Doing our due diligence about who we share the outdoors with, and how encounters with them may affect us, can help minimize the risks.
Note: This blog post is intended to increase your awareness to potential risks to engaging in nature. It is not meant to be totally inclusive and may not reflect the most current information in your area. Please consult your local experts as suggested in this blog, or your primary care provider, for more specific information on your local surroundings and/or places you plan to visit.