Have fun in the sun - but be careful

A letter from the Winnipeg Health Region

Winnipeg Health Region Interim President & CEO
Wave, Summer 2015

Lori Lamont
Lori Lamont

Summer. We spend all winter waiting for it.

And, so far, this one appears to be well worth waiting for.

Over the last few weeks, we have been blessed with a string of sunny days where the temperature has hovered around the 30 C mark, which is just about as close to perfect as you can get. And that means more people are heading outdoors to take advantage of the beautiful weather.

That's a good thing. Blue skies and sunshine are meant to be enjoyed. In doing so, though, it is important to let moderation be your guiding principle. That's because all that fun in the sun can be accompanied by certain health risks.

Talk to people who work in the city's emergency departments, for example, and they will tell you that they tend to see more injuries during the summer than at any other time of year. In fact, health-care workers right across the country often refer to summer as "trauma season."

The reason for the surge in patients seeking care is obvious. As the temperature rises, more people head outdoors to participate in their favourite recreational activities. With more people cycling, driving, swimming, camping and playing all manner of sports, from tennis to football, it's not surprising that more people end up coming to emergency with everything from minor sprains and broken bones to major head injuries.

But trauma-related injuries are only part of the story. In recent years, Manitobans have also had to be aware of other potential health issues during the summer months. Take skin cancer, for example.

While more people are learning about skin cancer, there are still too many people who do not realize just how much damage they can do to their skin by spending too much time in the sun unprotected.

CancerCare Manitoba Foundation has come up with a novel way to raise awareness about this problem. As our cover story explains, the foundation has acquired a special camera that can detect skin damage caused by the sun's harmful ultraviolet rays. As our story points out, these images will often reveal that someone has suffered some skin damage and would be well advised to make sure they apply sunscreen before heading out for a day in the sun.

It's a good thought, one that more of us should be thinking about.

That's because skin cancers of all kinds are on the rise. Melanoma, for example, is one of the fastest growing types of cancer in Canada. Between 2001 and 2010, it increased at an annual rate of 2.3 per cent for men and 2.9 per cent for women. In Manitoba, melanoma rates have increased 15-fold since 1960. It is estimated that about 190 people will develop melanoma in this province during 2015.

There are things people can do to reduce their risk of skin damage and the
potential development of skin cancer.

Wearing sunscreen is important, but CancerCare Manitoba also recommends that people seek shade, wear a hat and avoid spending too much time in the sun during the peak hours between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. You can find more information in our story, including tips on how to properly apply sunscreen.

Skin damage, of course, isn't the only sun-related health issue. The warm weather that makes summer so enjoyable can also lead to other health problems, including dehydration and heat stroke.

Download the Sun Safety Guide

Other summertime health risks have emerged in recent years. For example, it wasn't all that long ago that mosquitoes were nothing more than a nuisance. Then, in 2002, we started to hear about a mosquito-borne disease called West Nile virus (WNv). Since 2003, there have been more than 900 confirmed human cases of WNv in Manitoba, although the numbers have dropped off dramatically in recent years. While the odds of developing WNv remain low, those who do can become quite ill. Symptoms can include fever, rash, headache, fatigue and body aches.

In addition to West Nile virus, Manitobans must also contend with the emergence of Lyme disease. This potentially debilitating illness is caused by a bacteria spread by the blacklegged tick, itself a relative newcomer to the province. As our story points out, Manitoba has recorded 60 confirmed and 55 probable cases of Lyme disease since 2009.

As it has done with West Nile virus, Manitoba Health has taken steps to raise awareness about this illness. In addition to posting information online about Lyme disease, it has also created a map that shows where significant populations of blacklegged ticks are located.

While everyone is at risk for sustaining an injury or becoming infected with rare bacteria, the odds of this happening are very small, and can be made even smaller by taking the appropriate precautions. Moreover, no one should let these risks prevent them from getting outside and taking advantage of the great weather.

After all, there is a far greater risk of developing heart disease or diabetes from lack of exercise than there is of injuring yourself while playing a game or developing an illness from a bug bite. And remember, winter is only a few months away. Once it arrives, we'll all be longing for summer again.

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