5 Gross Summer Myths You Need to Stop Believing

Bugs, pools, bears and other seasonal misconceptions that put your health at risk.

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Summertime means sunshine and time spent 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 doctor of family medicine with Menorah Medical Center, debunks some of the most common—and downright disgusting—summer health myths, providing the facts to keep your season safe.

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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.
Between 2000 and 2014 there were 493 documented outbreaks of disease in treated recreational pools and spas in 46 states and Puerto Rico, resulting in 27,219 illnesses and eight deaths, according to a 2018 report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Presumably, all of the outbreaks were linked to waterborne germs, but 363 were conclusively caused by Cryptosporidium, Legionella and Pseudomonas. Hotels were the leading sites, associated around one-third of the total outbreaks.

About 58 percent, or 212 outbreaks, were linked to Cryptosporidium, or "crypto," and cases don't seem to be slowing down. They're still 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 CDC.

Cryptosporidium is a parasite that causes severe diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and dehydration—that lasts up to three weeks. It may survive for days even in clean, chlorinated pools.

“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.

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Myth: Chlorine eliminates urine from the pool

Fact: Commercial pools may contain up to 20 gallons of urine.
Researchers estimate the typical backyard pool contains about 2 gallons of urine as well. To measure the amount, scientists from the University of Alberta recorded the quantity of a common artificial sweetener, Ace-K (acesulfame potassium) in 31 pools in two cities. Ace-K is found in many foods, and most of it leaves the body through urine, making it a good proxy for measuring urine.

Before you take a tinkle during family swim, know 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, in large quantities, are potentially harmful.

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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 one that contains picaridin, IR3535, DEET or lemon/eucalyptus oil. Other proven ways to avoid bites:

  • Stay indoors peak times for mosquito activity, typically dusk and dawn.
  • Wear long sleeves, pants and socks outdoors when possible and spray repellent onto clothes.
  • Remove standing water like kiddie pools and birdbaths near your home.
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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.
You shouldn't scrape, rub or apply sand to the wound, either. Instead, she recommends that you:

  • Rinse the area with vinegar for 30 seconds to deactivate the stingers. A mix of baking soda and seawater works, too. If you don’t have either, just use seawater.
  • Afterwards, a hot bath, calamine lotion or cortisone cream can help relieve 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.

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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 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 National Park Service still recommends:

  • Avoiding scented feminine products, deodorants and perfumes when camping.
  • Do not bury pads or tampons. Instead, store them in double Ziploc bags, out of reach of bears—in a tree or in the car until you can permanently dispose of them.
  • Clean yourself with pre-moistened, unscented towelettes and discard them with pads and tampons.

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