Stay safe in the great outdoors

A summertime camping trip is the perfect way to connect with family and friends. Before you grab your tent and stake your claim in the middle of the woods, make sure you have the one thing that will make your camping experience a success: knowledge about how to camp safely.

"Your camping trip may only take you an hour away from your home, but it can seem like a world away from your comfort zone," said Geisinger primary care physician Steven Sluck, DO. "A little mindfulness about safety can help you avoid most of the dangers you’ll potentially encounter."

Keep these 10 tips in mind on your next camping trip:

1. Store food properly: If you’re bringing food with you, make sure meats and other perishable items are sealed and stored at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below. Never store raw meat and fish with other food that will not be cooked thoroughly.

2. Bring a meat thermometer: Cook meat and fish long enough to kill any potential bacteria or pathogens that could make you sick. Beef should reach 160 degrees Fahrenheit, chicken breasts should reach 165 degrees Fahrenheit, and ground chicken and chicken thighs should reach 175 degrees Fahrenheit.

3. Don’t invite unwanted animal visitors: Your leftovers may bring bears, raccoons and other hungry critters to your campsite at night. Move all trash and food away from your sleeping area, ideally to your car if it’s nearby. If that’s not possible, store it in a bag you can hoist high into the air above a tree branch.

4. Pack bug spray with DEET: Mosquitos cause itchy welts and can also carry diseases such as West Nile virus.

"Be sure to pack bug spray which contains 20 to 30 percent DEET, a repellant that keeps mosquitos and other annoying insects away," said Dr. Sluck. "If you have an infant, check with your doctor first since DEET products shouldn’t be used on babies younger than two months old."

5. Watch out for bears: The worst thing you can do is startle a bear, especially a mother with cubs. If you’re hiking in the woods, it’s good to be noisy – this will warn animals that you’re coming and give them time to leave. If you do encounter a bear, do not run; back away slowly and climb a tree if necessary.

6. Always wear a life vest on boats: Accidents on a boat can happen in an instant. Even good swimmers should always wear a life vest while on the water.

7. Take shelter during storms: If you hear thunder, it’s time to take shelter. The best place is in a large building or your car. Stay away from trees and metal objects (like tent poles).

8. Drink clean water: Purify any water you do not bring with you, even if it comes from a spigot in a campsite. You can filter it through store-bought filtration systems, boil it for one minute (or three minutes above 6,500 feet) or use water purification tabs.

"Microorganisms in fresh water include bacteria and protozoa," said Dr. Sluck. "Many of these are intestinal parasites that cause symptoms such as diarrhea, nausea and vomiting."

9. Protect yourself from carbon monoxide: Carbon monoxide from cooking stoves can be fatal if inhaled. Never cook inside your tent or other enclosed spaces.

10. Bring a first aid kit: Your first aid kit should be the first thing you pack. It will help you treat most minor injuries that can happen while you’re camping.

Steven Sluck, DO, is a primary care physician and sees patients at Geisinger Mt. Pleasant in Scranton. To schedule an appointment with Dr. Sluck or another primary care physician, please call 570-342-8500 or visit Geisinger.org

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