Let’s face it: You’re worn out. This break could not come any sooner, but finally, Spring Break is around the corner, and the beaches, hiking trips and long nights of fun are calling your name. With all the activities planned for the week, it could be easy to let health habits take a back seat to your vacation. However, any concerned parent could tell you, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Whitney Landman, MSN, BSN, a clinical assistant professor with the Texas A&M College of Nursing, gives tips on how to keep you safe and healthy while enjoying your trip.

Prepare for the elements

If your vacation includes a trip to the beach or the woods, then you could be exposing yourself to some of Mother Nature’s troubles. “If you plan on being outside for a long time, then you need to have the proper clothes and essentials,” Landman said. “Be sure to pack sunblock, bug spray and plenty of water. Remember that the sun dehydrates you, so you may end up needing more water than you think.”

Also, if you plan on being outdoors for extended period of time, be sure to take proper precautions—such as wearing insect repellent with either 25 percent DEET or 20 percent Picardin—to steer clear of getting mosquito-borne diseases like Zika, West Nile, or dengue. If you’re an area that has a warm climate with possible mosquito activity, try to wear clothes that cover your skin as much as possible and sleep under a bed net or inside a room with air conditioning or screens on the windows.

It’s not just the bugs and the dehydration you need to worry about, though. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays can damage your skin in as little as 15 minutes, so it’s best to have shade, sunglasses and sunblock. When you’re applying sunblock, make sure that you’re using one with at least a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 and covering hard-to-reach areas of your body like your back and shoulders. (Get a friend to help if necessary.)

Be sure to reapply sunblock as directed on the bottle, or after swimming, sweating or toweling off. Remember that sunscreen, even one with a high SPF, can’t completely protect you, so seek shade during the middle of the day.

Ward off infection

If you plan on being in crowded areas, such as beaches, concerts or festivals, be sure you’re doing your part to help contain the spread of diseases. Landman stressed the importance of preventative hygiene, such as washing your hands properly and covering your mouth when you cough, but also recommended something you should do before you even start your break.

“A lot of people may just associate flu season with the winter, but flu season lasts until April,” Landman said. “It’s definitely not too late to get your flu shot if you haven’t already.”

Another common holiday ailment is good ol’ common cold, and while catching the common cold won’t warrant a trip to your health care provider, it could put a damper on your vacation. If you feel like you’re coming down with a cold, be sure to get plenty of rest, hydrate and take the proper medications.

Practice safe sex

Also, while the risk of picking up an infection may be high in close gatherings, sexually transmitted diseases (STD) can also of concern during the vacation.

The CDC estimates that youth ages 15–24 make up about one quarter of the sexually active population, but account for half of the 20 million new sexually transmitted infections that occur in the United States each year. Although the only 100 percent way to prevent an STD is to not have sex (vaginal, oral or anal), wearing a latex condom and having a monogamous, uninfected partner may help lower your risk.

While some STDs can present with mild symptoms, or without symptoms at all, most will manifest with similar signs:

  • Itching, burning or redness in the genital area
  • An abnormal discharge from the vagina or penis
  • Burning sensation when urinating
  • Rectal pain
  • Rashes or sores in the genital area
  • Bleeding in between menstrual periods

If you’re unsure, be sure to talk to your health care provider if anything uncomfortable is happening below the waist.

Look out for food poisoning

Spring break can lead you to exotic lands and trying new things, such as local cuisines. However, if you’re skeptical about some of the food or the quality of water, stick to eating food that you know has been cooked well.

Food poisoning is more common than you may think. According to the CDC, 1 in 6 Americans get sick every year from consuming contaminated foods or drinks. With food contamination being as common as it is, it’s best know the symptoms of food poisoning—such as diarrhea, vomiting, stomach pain and nausea. If you are suspicious about the water quality, have a water filter on hand, or drink and use bottled water throughout the day, even for brushing your teeth.

Drink responsibly

Spring Break is all about enjoying yourself without the daily stresses consuming your thoughts and your attention, and all that free time can lead to having a drink or two. While enjoying an alcoholic beverage may seem like a Spring Break custom, it’s best to create a plan—and stick to it.

“If you plan on drinking, arrange for a safe way to get home,” Landman said. “There are many different ways to get home without getting behind the wheel, whether it’s a designated driver, a taxi or an app like Uber or Lyft. Do not drink and drive.”

The severity of driving while drunk cannot be exaggerated. According to the CDC, every 53 minutes someone in the United States dies in a motor vehicle crash that involves an alcohol-impaired driver.

Still, you don’t need to be behind the wheel to be in danger from drinking too much. Be sure to know the symptoms of alcohol poisoning:

  • Passing out and unable to be awakened
  • Vomiting
  • Slow or irregular breathing
  • Seizures
  • Low body temperature (hypothermia)

Alcohol poisoning is an emergency, and even if you suspect someone is having alcohol poisoning—even without the classic symptoms—it’s best that you seek immediate medical care.

“People will frequently worry about the consequences of drinking, particularly if they’re underage,” Landman said. “In this scenario, the consequences of not getting help can be far more dangerous.”

Be safe, and have fun!

It’s easy to get rowdy and caught up in the moment during Spring Break, and that can be part of the experience—however, it’s extremely important that you don’t risk your health and safety for the sake of a good time. Be sure to stay with your friends and stick to whatever plan you made before you went out. When you’re presented with anything that could be risky, it’s best to choose the safe route.

“Bad things happen and can happen to anyone, and the best thing we can do is to err on the side of caution,” Landman said. “Spring Break is supposed to be fun, so have fun, but be aware of your surroundings.”

— Dominic Hernandez

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