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4 hidden dangers of summer

By By Kevin Byrne, AccuWeather.com Staff Writer
July 26, 2016, 5:13:47 PM EDT

During the summer, extreme heat, flooding and lightning strikes are some of the most pronounced weather-related dangers.

Over the past 30 years, lightning resulted in the deaths of an average of 49 people in the U.S. per year, according to the National Weather Service.

Heat also claims dozens of lives every year. About 85 people are killed due to heat each year based on the 30-year average, the NWS said.

While those are some of the more commonly known risks associated with the summertime, there are other hazards associated with summer—including some that can be deadly.

Here are four hidden dangers of summer weather:

Rise in mosquito-borne illnesses


According to the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control, the most common mosquito-borne disease in the United States is West Nile virus, and most cases occur between June and September.

Additionally, the CDC states that 70 to 80 percent of people who become infected with West Nile virus do not develop symptoms and 1 in 5 develops a fever with other symptoms such as headache, body aches, joint pains and vomiting.

Dengue has emerged as a worldwide problem in the last 60 years, and the U.S. has started to see cases in the last several years. The mosquitos that transmit this disease are active day and night and can be found indoors or outdoors. Other types of mosquitos are active dusk through dawn.

The Zika virus continues to plague South America and experts warn that it could spread into Europe and North America.

The type of mosquito responsible for the spread of the virus across Latin America is called Aedes aegypti and is the main carrier for the disease.

To avoid mosquito bites, the CDC recommends using insect repellents, wearing long sleeves, long pants and socks when the weather permits.

Another way to reduce the number of mosquitos around your home is to routinely empty standing water from flowerpots, gutters and other objects where water can build up.

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Brain-eating amoebas thrive in warm freshwater bodies

The Naegleria fowleri, often referred to as the brain-eating amoeba, is known to cause a rare and devastating infection of the brain called primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM) and is usually fatal according to the CDC.

The amoeba is commonly found in warm freshwater bodies such as lakes, rivers and hot springs as well as soil. It is currently found around the world, but in the United States, the majority of infections caused by Naegleria fowleri have been located in freshwater in southern-tier states according to the CDC.

"Most of the cases occur in what we call the southern-tier states, and, in fact, about 50 percent of cases have occurred in Texas and Florida," Dr. Jennifer Cope, medical epidemiologist at the CDC, said.

Naegleria fowleri is thermophilic, or heat-loving. Most infections occur during July, August and September when there is prolonged heat and thus higher water temperatures and lower water levels.

The only way to avoid an infection due to swimming is to refrain from water-related activities in warm freshwater. The CDC recommends limiting the amount of water going up the nose by keeping your head above water when swimming in bodies of freshwater at warmer temperatures as well as digging in or stirring up sediment while taking part in water-related activities.

Violent crime rates rise in the summer


No matter where you live in the U.S., chances are that you might see or hear more about homicides and violent assaults during the summer months.

David McDowall is a criminal justice professor at the University of Albany. As part of a research study, McDowall examined the average temperatures for the 88 cities in the U.S., all of which had a population of 200,000 or more. Cities with larger populations tend to see more occurrences of crimes such as homicide.

McDowall’s study, which examined a period of 44 years from 1960 to 2004, found that homicides and serious violent assaults have a seasonal pattern that is highest in the summer, around July, and lowest in the winter, around January.

“In both cases, temperature explains a lot of the pattern,” he said.

McDowall cited two explanations for increased homicides and assaults in during the summertime. One is the temperature aggression theory which says people get aggravated as it gets hot and that they are more likely to get in arguments as well as commit assaults and homicides.

The second is the opportunity theory that says that when people are outside more, they meet more strangers and have greater opportunities for assaults and homicides.

McDowall said that cities that have more constant temperatures throughout the year, such as San Diego, had less seasonal patterns throughout the year versus cities that had sharper differences across the year such as Minneapolis.

"But in general, the effects of temperatures were the same across all of the cities," he said. "A hot day in Minneapolis is the same as a hot day in San Diego."

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Foodborne illnesses increase in the summer


Martin Bucknavage, senior food safety extension associate in the department of food sciences at Penn State University, said there are higher cases of pathogenic E. coli in the summer, so it’s important to properly handle and cook ground hamburger.

Bucknavage added that salmonella, which is frequently carried by a number of animals including birds, is another illness to watch out for. When eating outside, there can be an increased risk of cross contamination.

"When under-cooking meat or poultry, or through cross contamination from raw meat or poultry, there is an increased risk of becoming infected by salmonella," he said.

The summer season brings more time for outdoor dining, and Bucknavage offered several pieces of advice for food preparation.

“Store raw meat, poultry and fish separate from ready-to-eat foods,” he said. “We do not want to allow cross contamination to occur where pathogens, potentially on the meat, can be transferred to a ready-to-eat item such as fruit.”

He recommended using a food thermometer to ensure that meats, especially poultry (165 F) and hamburgers (160 F), should be cooked properly and that color or feel are not proper measures of doneness.

Bucknavage stressed that when done eating, food should be stored immediately in the refrigerator.

“Do not leave food in the sun after eating,” he said. “Anything that may have become temperature abused should be disposed.”

In the event that a severe storm causes power outages, Bucknavage said it is important to store food in a cooler with enough ice to keep temperatures below 40 F because the rate of spoilage increases above 40 F.

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