Four-wheeling isn’t inherently hazardous. But like all outdoors activity, some risks are always present. Now is a good time to review a few common issues encountered while outdoors. Included are steps to mitigate the situation and prevent it from happening altogether.
As a wilderness first responder, I am familiar with many of these situations (and more). Recommendations are based upon my training and experience. Please consult your medical provider for specific advice and treatment.
Ticks: Though small, these buggers can pack a punch. Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, ehrlichiosis, babesiosis and Lyme disease are just some of the nasties they can transmit.
Ticks are present just about everywhere. One day I was leading a group on the Mojave Road. The Mojave Road was an important wagon road in the late 1800s. The key to its existence is a water source about every 18 – 20 miles. When the U.S. mail was put on the road in 1868, the Army built forts to protect each water source. We stopped at each watering spot to look at the redoubts. One of those stops was Marl Spring. While walking through a small grassy area, I picked up several ticks. Even out in the desert you have to be mindful of ticks.
Check yourself thoroughly after every trip into the woods or fields. Pay particular attention to your arms, around your ears, back of the knees, in your hair, between your legs, and along your waist. Deer ticks are tiny – about the size of a pinhead – so look carefully.
The best level of prevention is avoidance. Wear light-colored clothing, with long sleeves and pants. Use bug spray that contains DEET or similar chemical.
Proper removal of the tick is essential. Using a fine-tipped tweezers, grab the tick as close to the skin as possible. Pull straight up and away in a steady, fluid motion. Don’t jerk or twist. You risk breaking off the body and leaving its head in your skin.
Afterwards, wash the area with soap and water, or apply disinfectant alcohol or hand sanitizer. Watch the bite wound for at least three weeks. Visit a doctor if you experience redness at the bite location, aches and pains, or flu-like symptoms.
Don’t squash the tick you removed with your fingers. Treat all ticks as if infected with a bloodborne pathogen. Flushing a tick down the toilet may not kill it. Ticks can survive three to four days in water. It’s best to put it in a container with alcohol. Don’t waste your good drinking whiskey, however.
For more details check The Center for Disease Control.
Food poisoning/ingested toxins: This can occur during any expedition outdoors. Keeping food chilled properly is challenging during summertime camping. Plus, we tend to leave food out longer than normal. Potato salad and egg salad are of special concern. Avoid raw or undercooked poultry or pork.
Solutions here include keeping cold food chilled, and cooking meats thoroughly. Also, when food is out, don’t leave it in sunlight.
Proper chilling is crucial. Whether you use ice or a portable fridge-freezer, maintain food in the low 40s Fahrenheit.
Another source for toxins is poorly washed hands. Always make a conscious effort to wash hands before preparing food and/or eating. Handi-wipes and hand sanitizer are very helpful off-road. (Though you may want to rinse off the chemicals before eating.)
Wash all utensils, cutting boards and such after each use. It’s also a good ideal to rinse fresh vegetables and any fruit that isn’t peeled before eating.
Be careful of wild berries, nuts and fungi (mushrooms). If you’re not familiar with the plant, leave it alone. Water from a stream or pond can carry giardia. If you choose to drink the water, treat it first.
Ingested toxins can cause a variety of symptoms, including an upset stomach, vomiting and diarrhea. Most people find relief in about a day. Vomiting and diarrhea can lead to dehydration. If any symptoms persist for more than a day, seek medical attention.
Foreign objects in the eye: Probably the most common outdoors is dust or sand in the eye. Also be careful when around campfires. People tend to burn paper, and the ash floating around can get in the eye.
If something gets in the eye, flush with a gentle stream of clean water. Don’t rub the eye, and don’t try to pluck out the object. (Wash your hands first to avoid enhancing the problem.) Sometimes you have to hold up the eyelid to effectively flush the eye.
A minor scratch in the cornea will heal in a day or two, though pain may linger. It’ll feel like something is still in the eye.
If redness and tearing persist for more than a day, seek medical attention. Of course, any significant eye injury requires immediate medical attention.
The best way to prevent an eye injury is to wear goggles. Eye protection is a must if chopping wood or using a power tool. Sunglasses and similar eyewear may protect the eyes from blowing sand or dust.
Never remove impaled objects from the eye. Seek immediate medical help.
Bee stings: For most people, a bee sting is a minor event. The sharp pain lasts for a moment or two, and may be followed with redness and swelling. Most of the time that goes away in a couple hours.
Benadryl helps reduce swelling and itching. (It can make you sleepy, so don’t take if driving.) Ibuprofen and Tylenol are effective against pain.
For those who are allergic to bees, a sting can be deadly. Without treatment, the body can experience anaphylactic shock. But those folks tend to carry an EpiPen so they can self-administer the medicine when needed.
If taken, however, the person must go to the hospital. Symptoms could reappear – known as a rebound – requiring another dose of epinephrine.
The best defense for bee stings is to avoid bees. Steer clear of hives and areas where you see bees (or wasps) buzzing around.
If you know you are allergic, don’t leave home without your EpiPen.
The outdoors, just like urban areas, present a certain number of hazards. They shouldn’t keep you from camping, four-wheeling, or any other activity. Just remember how to avoid the hazards and mitigate any effects.