Prepare for Summer Illness and Injuries!


Article Categories: Patient Care & Diseases and Conditions

Summertime! Everyone looks forward to the long days and vacations. After dealing with all the colds and flu of winter, you would think that warm weather means fewer patient calls or appointments. Not so fast!



Medical Assistants encounter different types of patient complaints during the summer. While you can’t diagnose any illness, knowing some warning signs can assist in scheduling an appointment or communicating with the providers in your practice.

To help you prepare, here’s a list of common situations:

• Enteroviruses: Water from lakes, rivers, and oceans can become contaminated from fecal matter or sewage. Even if you’re careful, it’s hard not to swallow a little water when swimming or splashing. When patients call to report symptoms ranging from cold-like symptoms (sneezing, runny nose, cough), aching muscles, or dehydration, all the way to respiratory problems, consider they may have been infected. Enterovirus is easily passed around a family. Special attention: pregnant or nursing women, children, or patients with chronic diseases or immune deficiency.

• Ticks: Ticks are tiny, but can carry diseases such as Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever or Lyme Disease. Symptoms are similar for both, showing up 2-14 days after being bitten: Fever, nausea, vomiting, headache, and muscle pain. Both illnesses are quite serious and need early treatment. Teach patients to use insect repellent with DEET when going in grassy or woody areas and how to check for ticks after being outdoors. Removing ticks as soon as possible is also important.

• Whooping Cough: Summer camps seem to be a great way to catch Whooping Cough (Pertussis). If parents call a week or two after their child returns from camp to report fever, sneezing, runny nose, and a dry cough, get them in for an examination. This is a serious illness that is highly contagious and can last for ten weeks or more. Vaccination prevents Whooping Cough, so check patient records during routine visits to ensure all vaccinations are up to date.

• Food Poisoning: Picnics and outdoor eating are natural activities for summer. But extra attention is necessary to keep foods at proper temperatures to prevent bacteria growth. Foodborne illness also happens from contamination when food is not handled or cooked correctly--and from poor handwashing. Symptoms can occur within a few hours: nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramping, and diarrhea. A fever may also be present. While food poisoning may resolve spontaneously, some patients may require treatment or hospitalization. Pay attention when a patient reports ongoing vomiting and inability to drink fluids, diarrhea for more than three days, blood in vomit or stools, severe abdominal cramping, or a fever higher than 101.5°F (38.6°C).

• Poison Ivy/Oak/Sumac: When patients call to report a painful rash, red lines or patches, along with swelling, blisters, and relentless itching, after being outdoors, consider that they have had contact with one of the plants in the Toxicodendron family. The plants have an oily substance which causes an allergic reaction that lasts one to two weeks. Note: touching a person, pet, or contaminated item can spread the oil. Treatment depends on the severity of the reaction. Mild reactions are treated with cool compresses, topical cortisone cream, and calamine lotion. If severe, treatment may include prednisone. Be especially alert for patients who report a cough or respiratory problem after being near burning plants or fires which contain the plants. They may have inhaled the oils and require rapid attention.

Knowing some of the common reasons that patients may call during the summer will help you ask better questions, understand symptoms, and get patients the appropriate care. Remember these situations for yourself, your family and friends, too!


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