Forget what your camp counselor told you as a kid — these summer myths can put your health at risk.
Summertime means sunshine and time spent outdoors with family and friends. But the warm weather also brings burns, bites, germs, and a lot of misinformation about how to treat them.
Khushbu Patel, DO, a family medicine doctor affiliated with Menorah Medical Center, debunks some of the most common — and gross — outdoor health myths, giving you the facts to keep your summer safe.
Myth: Chlorine eliminates urine from the pool.
Fact: Commercial pools may contain up to 20 gallons of urine.
Researchers estimate this translates to about two gallons of pee in a typical backyard pool. How do they know? A team of scientists from the University of Alberta measured the amount of a common artificial sweetener called Ace-K (acesulfame potassium) in 31 pools across two cities. Ace-K is found in many foods, and most of it leaves the body through urine; that makes it a good proxy for measuring urine.
Before you take a tinkle during family swim, know that your pee won’t just disappear, and it’s not totally harmless. When pool water mixes with urine, it creates a pungent chlorine smell, which can make breathing difficult for people with asthma and other respiratory conditions. It also produces chemical byproducts that are potentially harmful in large amounts.
Myth: It’s okay to swallow pool water.
Fact: Just one gulp may contain fecal particles, along with germs like cryptosporidium, and could give you a nasty case of diarrhea.
Cryptosporidium, or “crypto,” is a parasite that causes severe diarrhea, and may survive for days even in clean, chlorinated pools. Crypto cases are on the rise in the US, with infections linked to public pools and water playgrounds doubling from 2014 to 2016 (32 outbreaks), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
You can catch crypto by drinking just one mouthful of contaminated water. It may cause symptoms — like nausea, vomiting, liquid diarrhea, and dehydration — for up to three weeks.
“The most common way of spreading these organisms is through fecal accidents by diapered and/or toddler aged children, or [by shedding fecal particles from] swimmers’ bodies,” explains Dr. Patel.
Keep germs out of the pool this summer by:
- Avoiding the water if you have diarrhea. Don’t swim for at least two weeks if you have a known or suspected case of crypto.
- Taking children to the bathroom and checking diapers hourly. Also, change diapers in the bathroom — not poolside.
- Washing your hands after using the restroom and showering before swimming.
And, of course, don’t swallow the water.
Myth: Eating garlic repels mosquitoes.
Fact: “Garlic consumption has not shown any difference in the occurrence of mosquito bites,” says Patel.
The CDC recommends wearing bug repellent when outdoors, preferably a brand containing picaridin, IR3535, DEET, or lemon/eucalyptus oil. Other proven ways to avoid bites:
- Stay indoors at dusk and dawn, peak times for mosquito activity.
- Wear long sleeves, pants, and socks outdoors when possible; spray repellent onto clothes for extra protection.
- Remove standing water like kiddie pools and birdbaths from around your home.
Myth: Peeing on a jellyfish sting will ease the pain.
Fact: “Remedies such as human urine, pressure bandages, alcohol and gasoline have not proven to be helpful in treating jellyfish stings,” says Patel.
Instead, she recommends that you:
- Don’t scrape, rub, or apply sand to the wound.
- Rinse the area with vinegar for about 30 seconds to deactivate the stingers; a mix of baking soda and seawater works, too. If you don’t have vinegar, use seawater to wash the area.
- Afterwards, a hot bath, calamine lotion, or cortisone cream can help relieve any itching or pain.
Call 9-1-1 immediately if someone experiences chest pain, shortness of breath, difficulty swallowing, excessive sweating, fainting, or an abnormal pulse after being stung.
Myth: Bears are drawn to women on their period.
Fact: Studies have not found this link to be true, but you should take some precautions if camping while menstruating.
Studies cited by the National Park Service (NPS) have shown that grizzly and black bears — the two most common bears found in the US — are not more attracted to menstrual blood than other human odors or bodily fluids, says Patel.
However, the NPS still recommends that you:
- Avoid scented feminine products, deodorants, and perfumes when camping.
- Don’t bury pads or tampons; instead, store them in double Ziploc bags, out of reach of bears. Tie them up in a tree or keep them in the car until you can permanently dispose of them.
- Clean yourself with pre-moistened, unscented towelettes and discard them the same way as pads and tampons.