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Patrick Springer, Published May 29 2010

Group offers summer safety tips

Memorial Day weekend signals the unofficial start of summer – and the need for parents to be extra vigilant about threats posed by the hot sun and bug bites.

Safe Kids Fargo-Moorhead urges parents to never leave their child alone in a vehicle, not even briefly on what is seemingly a mild day.

The “greenhouse effect” traps heat, even with windows cracked, and temperatures inside a car can quickly spike to dangerous levels for infants and toddlers, said Bobbi Paper, MeritCare’s injury prevention coordinator.

In fact, three children left in cars in other states already have died this spring from heat stroke, and about 40 succumb each year.

“A child’s body heats up three to five times faster than an adult’s making them more susceptible to heat stroke – even on a day with mild temperatures,” Paper said. “Heat stroke can occur within a matter of minutes and the results can be deadly.”

Also, parents should make sure their children are protected from the skin-damaging effects of strong ultra-violet radiation in the intense summer sun. Freckles, in fact, are evidence of mild sun injury to skin.

Dr. Ron Miller, a MeritCare pediatrician, said children are especially at risk from sunlight that is reflected by water or other bright surfaces, such as concrete.

To protect against harmful rays, parents should apply sunscreen with a protection factor of at least 30 or 40. Water-proof lotions are needed for those who are swimming or lounging at a lake or pool.

People with fair complexions are most susceptible, but even those with darker complexions can get sunburns, evidence of skin damage, Miller said. In time, badly damaged skin ages prematurely and in some cases develops into skin cancer.

“Most everybody coming out of a long, gray winter will get exposed to too much sun,” Miller said, unless precautions, including protective clothing, are taken. “I’ve already seen half a dozen kids with mild sun injury or sunburn.”

Parents also should protect their children against insect bites, including mosquitoes and gnats.

Insect repellants including DEET are completely safe if used as directed, Miller said. Once inside for the day, wash off repellant.

Common wood ticks rarely but occasionally carry Lyme disease; smaller deer ticks, more prevalent in late summer, more commonly carry Lyme disease.

“If they are embedded,” Miller said of ticks, “it’s best to call your doctor.”

Finally, bicycle helmets should be worn for protection. “We’ve had a couple of head injuries this year,” Miller said

Kids ages 10 to 15 are especially at risk, because they can ride at dangerous speeds and, especially in the case of teens, are resistant to wearing helmets, he said.

“Get helmets on your kids when they’re riding a bike,” he said, adding they should be made mandatory, as they are in some states and countries.

Summer kid safety reminders

- Never leave a child alone in a vehicle, even with the window slightly open, for any length of time.

- Call 911 if a child is seen unattended in a vehicle.

- Place a cell phone, diaper bag or gym bag on the back seat – forcing you to open the back door, eliminating the possibility of forgetting a child in the back seat.

- Set daily cell phone or computer calendar reminders to drop your child off at day care.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522