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Dangers in the field

My best memories are of outdoor adventures, whether it be searching for fossils along a riverbank or taking the new puppy for a long walk in the woods; some of my worst memories are of outdoor adventures as well.  This article is not intended to scare the outdoor enthusiast, but to help ensure that your outdoor adventures create great memories.   

[01] Heat 
The combination of heat and humidity can be a serious health threat during the summer months.
• Drink plenty of water – before you get thirsty.
• Bring plenty of water for your activity.
• Wear light, loose-fitting, breathable clothing — cotton is good.
• Take frequent short breaks in cool shade.
• Eat smaller meals before outdoor activity.
• Avoid caffeine and alcohol or large amounts of sugar.
• Find out from your health-care provider if your medications and heat don’t mix.
• Know that equipment such as respirators or work suits can increase heat stress.

[02] Sun 
Sunlight contains ultraviolet (UV) radiation, which causes premature aging of the skin, wrinkles, cataracts and skin cancer. There are no safe UV rays or safe suntans. Be especially careful in the sun if you burn easily, spend a lot of time outdoors, or have any of the following physical features:
• Numerous, irregular or large moles;
• Freckles;
• Fair skin; or blond, red or light brown hair. 

Here’s how to block those harmful rays:
• Cover up and wear tightly woven clothing that you can’t see through.
• Use sunscreen, a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15 blocks 93% of UV rays. Be sure to follow application directions on the bottle or tube.
• Wear a hat. A wide brim hat, not a baseball cap, works best because it protects the neck, ears, eyes, forehead, nose and scalp.
• Wear UV-absorbent shades, sunglasses don’t have to be expensive, but they should block 99 to 100% of UVA and UVB radiation. Before you buy, read the product tag or label.
• Limit exposure. UV rays are most intense between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

[03] Snakes 
The potential of running into a poisonous snake should not deter anyone from venturing outdoors, but there are several precautions that can be taken to lessen the chance of being bitten when out in snake country - which is just about anywhere in the Mid-South.

First, know that poisonous snakes are not confined to rural areas. They have been found near urban areas, in river or lakeside parks, and at golf courses. Be aware that startled snakes may strike defensively. There are several safety measures that can be taken to reduce the likelihood of startling a poisonous snake.
• Never go barefoot or wear sandals when walking through wild areas. Wear hiking boots. 
• When hiking, stick to well-used trails and wear over-the-ankle boots and loose-fitting long pants. Avoid tall grass, weeds and heavy underbrush where snakes may hide during the day. 
• Do not step or put your hands where you cannot see, and avoid wandering around in the dark. Step ON logs and rocks, never over them, and be especially careful when climbing rocks or gathering firewood. Check out stumps or logs before sitting down, and shake out sleeping bags before use. 
• Never grab “sticks” or “branches” while swimming in lakes and rivers. 
• Be careful when stepping over the doorstep as well. Snakes like to crawl along the edge of buildings where they are protected on one side. 
• Never hike alone. Always have someone with you who can assist in an emergency. 
• Do not handle a freshly killed snake, it can still inject venom. 
• Teach children to respect snakes and to leave them alone. Children are naturally curious and will pick up snakes. 
• Don’t kill snakes just because you don’t like them.  Snakes are very important for the environment. 
• Your best defense against snake bites is to avoid the snake.  If you see a snake, no matter what kind of snake it is – LEAVE IT ALONE.

[04] Ticks and Lyme Disease  
Lyme Disease is caused by bites from infected ticks. Most, but not all, victims will develop a “bulls-eye” rash. Other signs and symptoms may be non-specific and similar to flu symptoms such as fever, lymph node swelling, neck stiffness, generalized fatigue, headaches, migrating joint aches or muscle aches.
• Wear light-colored clothes to see ticks more easily.
• Wear long sleeves; tuck pant legs into socks or boots.
• Wear high boots or closed shoes that cover your feet completely.
• Wear a hat.
• Use tick repellants, but not on your face.
• Shower after the outdoor activity. Wash and dry your clothes at high temperature.
• Examine your body for ticks after outdoor activity. Remove any attached ticks promptly with fine-tipped tweezers. Do not use petroleum jelly, a hot match, or nail polish to remove the tick.

[05] West Nile Virus and Mosquitoes 
Illness from the West Nile virus is rare, but it does happen. Mild symptoms include fever, headache and body aches, occasionally with a skin rash on the trunk of the body and swollen lymph glands. Symptoms of severe infection include headache, high fever, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness and paralysis. Getting rid of standing water in containers such as discarded tires, buckets and barrels helps reduce mosquito-breeding areas. In addition, you can protect yourself from mosquito bites in these ways:
• Apply insect repellent with DEET to exposed skin.
• Spray clothing with repellents containing DEET or Permethrin.
• Wear long sleeves, long pants and socks.
• Be extra vigilant at dusk and dawn when mosquitoes are most active.

[06] Poison Ivy, Oak, and Sumac
Poison oak and poison ivy are allergic skin conditions caused by contact with the oils from the bark, flowers, leaves, and/or stems of the plants poison oak, ivy, sumac, ragweed, and primrose. 
Symptoms include contact dermatitis or allergic symptoms such as a rash and blisters. In severe cases, symptoms can also include lethargy (fatigue), sleep disorders, and general discomfort and feelings of illness. 
What to Consider 
Know what these poisonous plants look like. Poison oak, ivy, and sumac grow as vines or bushes, and the leaves have three leaflets (ivy and oak) or a row of paired leaflets (sumac). When spending time outdoors in areas where these plants grow, avoid touching them and wear long sleeve pants and shirts. Also wash any clothing that comes in contact with the plants. Sometimes cases that do not go away are due to repeated exposure through contaminated clothing. 
You may continue to be exposed to the oils of these plants by touching pets and other animals that have run through patches of the plants. You can also contract poison oak and poison ivy by inhaling smoke from the burning plants.

Caution: In cases of severe reaction that cause difficulty breathing, seek medical attention immediately. Very hot water from baths or showers can also spread the rash and exacerbate symptoms.
• Stay outside and wash exposed skin with rubbing alcohol or Tecnu (a product made for this purpose), both of which dissolve the sap. If you don't have either of these but happen to have some beer or wine or other alcohol-containing beverage, use this instead.
• Rinse skin with cool water. Don't use soap yet because it can spread the sap on your body.
• Go inside and take a shower, washing with soap. Deposit clothes in a plastic bag.
• Dump clothes in washing machine and wash in hot water.
• Wipe tools and gloves that are keepers with alcohol and water.
• Avoid Bushwhacking.
• Wear gloves, pants and long sleeve clothing if you’re going to be in brush.  

[7] Quick Points
• While chipping away at stone and rock, wear gloves and safety goggles.
• Carry a First Aid kit and Cell Phone while in the field.
• If you must travel alone in the field tell others where you are going to be and when you expect to return.
• Avoid breathing rock dust when cutting or chipping stone.
• Carry a walking stick – Great for flipping rocks or checking a hole out prior to using your hands.
• Know where you’re going – Getting lost is no fun. Look at a map or speak with others that have been in the area.
• Spiders like dark places – Keep your hands out of holes and other dark areas.  Unless you can positively ensure no spiders or other critters are inside - keep out.   
• Most importantly – HAVE FUN

if you have more hiking tips that you would like to share, please email them to MAGS.



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© 1998-2014 Memphis Archaeological and Geological Society. This page last updated 10.24.14.