How to stay healthy in the great outdoors |

How to stay healthy in the great outdoors

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado ” Meet a tourist who drinks stream water.

He says to himself, “Gosh, that water looks beautiful and clear. It must be safe to drink.”

Then the stream-water drinking tourist ends up in a hotel bathroom for a week with a hefty doctor’s bill.

“Not everyone will get sick, not all water is contaminated, but it could happen,” says Ray Merry, environmental health director for the county.

Merry says there’s all sorts of nasty stuff in the great outdoors that can really make you sick if you’re not careful. There are diseases carried by mosquitos, ticks, rodents and feces-contaminated stream water that could, in rare cases, actually kill you.

Here’s a primer on some of the more serious things you have to keep in mind while having fun out doors. The precautions are simple, so take them seriously.

The Colorado high country isn’t exactly a hot spot for mosquitos carrying the West Nile Virus. Still, there were four reported human cases of West Nile in Eagle County between 2003 and 2007, according to Jill Hunsaker, public health manager for the county.

While no humans have died, there have been a handful of horses killed by the virus in Eagle County, Merry said.

The West Nile Virus, common in Africa and Asia, was first seen in the United States in 1999 in New York. The disease travels long distances on birds, and has since spread to Colorado. There were 4,289 cases of West Nile reported throughout Colorado between 2003 and 2007.

West Nile can cause paralysis and inflammation of the brain or the brain’s lining. Serious cases can lead to death.

Symptoms include fever, headache, body aches, skin rashes and swollen lymph nodes. More severe infections may include high fever, neck stiffness, disorientation, coma, tremors, muscle weakness or convulsions.

Symptoms start showing up three to 14 days after exposure.

The chances of catching West Nile here are pretty small, but Merry suggests taking a few precautions while spending your days outside:

– Mosquitos are most common at dawn and dusk. Be especially careful then.

– Wear lightweight long sleeve shirts and pants.

– Use insect repellents containing DEET.

Ticks can carry some nasty things as well, such as the Colorado Tick Fever and the Rocky Mountain Spotted fever, Merry said.

The Colorado Tick Fever is characterized by fever, headache, body aches, nausea, abdominal pain, and lethargy, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health.

The illness usually lasts four to five days, followed by an apparent recovery, then a relapse of symptoms for two or three more days. Total recovery could take two to three weeks. The good news is the disease is not life-threatening and an infection results in life-long immunity.

The Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is a little more serious. After three to 14 days of incubation, you’ll see some flu-like symptoms, such as high fever, headaches, chills, muscle aches and a rash, according to the Colorado Department of Public health.

A rash often appears a few days later, which can spread rapidly over the entire body and may even be seen on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet. This disease can be fatal if treatment is delayed, so seek medical attention quickly.

Between 2003 and 2007, there was one reported case of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in Eagle County, and 18 across Colorado.

So, how do you avoid tick-borne illnesses? Sort of the same way you avoid mosquitos.

– Wear long sleeve shirts, long pants and long socks to keep ticks off your skin.

– Apply insect repellent with DEET.

– Check yourself for ticks after being outdoors. Remove them immediately using fine tipped tweezers.

If you’re around water, you have to be especially wary of giardiasis, or giardia.

This is a nasty disease of the small intestine that can give you diarrhea or loose, foul-smelling, greasy stools, cramping, bloating, excessive gas and fatigue, all which can last from three to 20 days.

You get this disease by somehow ingesting infected feces, and this most commonly happens when you drink untreated stream water. Just imagine all the animals in the forest that eat and excrete, and it’s not hard to see that their waste will sometimes end up in water.

The best tip? Don’t drink the water.

Since beavers can carry giardia, fishermen who like to hang around beaver dam pools for a good catch could be at a higher risk, Merry said.

There have been 33 cases of giardia reported in Eagle County between 2003 and 2007, and 2,643 reported in Colorado.

Here are the best ways to avoid being infected with giardia:

– Bring plenty of your own water, and don’t drink untreated stream water. Boiling water is the safest way to clean it, and chlorine and iodine don’t always work. You can also buy effective water filters at camping supply stores.

– Always wash your hands before eating and before preparing food, after changing diapers and after emptying cat letter boxes. After a day fishing in a stream, remember this before you eat your sandwich.

– You dog can be infected too.

– If you believe you’ve become infected, get it treated quickly, Merry said.

If you happen to have a remote cabin in the woods you only use in the summer, be sure to take precautions when cleaning it out.

More than likely, you’ll find rodent feces, and if you don’t handle it properly, you can get sick from the Hantavirus. This is carried mainly in the urine, saliva and droppings of infected deer mice.

The disease is very serious and potentially fatal, causing your lungs to fill up with fluid and give you trouble breathing.

There were two cases of Hantavirus reported between 2003 and 2007 in Eagle County, and just 33 across Colorado.

When you’re cleaning up droppings, put on your rubber gloves.

“Take the precaution of spraying those droppings with a disinfectant spray, like Lysol or bleach water to reduce that risk of inhaling dust that might have the virus when you’re cleaning up,” Merry said.

Staff Writer Matt Terrell can be reached at 970-748-2955 or

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