Hiking Safety for Kids: Expert Tips

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Kristi Westphaln As the summer months wind down, we are continuously reminded that Southern California is blessed with some of the best weather in the world! The kids are back in school but that doesn't mean the weekends can’t be spent outdoors. My basset hound, Grouper, and I romp around and enjoy the outdoors as if it were still summer. As you’re enjoying the early fall weather and outdoor adventures, like hiking, don’t forget to make safety a priority to help keep illness and injuries from spoiling family fun time. To create this blog post about how to prevent bug bites, proper animal interaction and empowering kids to explore the outdoors in a safe and smart way, I partnered with Jeffrey M. Bender, MD, medical director in the Division of Infectious Disease at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and former ranger in the Sierra Mountains.

Preventing Bug Bites (Tweet this)

West Nile Virus

Hiking Safety for Kids: Expert Tips

This virus has received a lot of media attention recently. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that one in five people who become infected with West Nile Virus may demonstrate symptoms that include fever, diarrhea, headaches, vomiting, and/or a rash. West Nile Virus is also known for causing its victims to sometimes experience weeks to months of persistent fatigue (weakness).

Prevent the West Nile Virus:

  • Avoid spending extended periods of time in areas with still water.
  • Wear an insect repellent that is approved the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
  • Cover skin by wearing long-sleeved shirts, long pants and hats.
  • Avoid hiking and outdoor activities at prime mosquito biting times, which are dawn and dusk. Mosquitoes like the same cooler weather conditions that we do.

Avoid applying insect repellent to children less than six months of age and keep it away from the hands and faces of older children, who may stick their hands in their mouths.

Ticks

Children most commonly come into contact with ticks while out hiking, playing in thick brush terrain or if the tick catches a ride from a pet to a person. The species of ticks that we tend to see in California include the American Dog Tick, the Brown Dog Tick and the Western Blacklegged Tick. I recommend checking out pictures of them on the Internet…pretty cool! Ticks do tend to remain most active during warmer months, but year-round prevention is important.

Prevent tick bites:

  • Encourage kids to stay in the center of hiking trails, away from the thick brush.
  • Cover skin by wearing long-sleeved shirts, long pants and hats.
  • Use insect repellents that contain 20-30 percent DEET and be sure to prevent the repellent entering the mouth, eyes and hands.
  • Perform a tick check on kids after hikes. Ticks like to hide in spots such as under the armpits, behind or inside the ears, belly button and the scalp.
  • If pets come along for outdoor fun, remember that ticks can catch a ride on pets and then attach to humans. Please check your pets and use a veterinarian-approved anti-flea and tick product.
  • If you find a tick, remove it as soon as possible. I highly recommend using tweezers and gently pulling the tick upward by grasping the head.

Spiders

California is home to a host of spiders, some of which can be deadly. Years back, I actually took care of a child in the Emergency Department at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles who decided that they wanted to take a bite out of a spider and that spider was actually a black widow spider!

Prevent spider bites:

  • Teach children to avoid dark and dirty places such as old sheds or garages.
  • Do not attempt to touch (or eat) spiders, especially ones that resemble a black widow.
  • If a black widow spider bites a child, that child should be immediately brought to the closest emergency department.
  • Symptoms of a black widow spider bite may include redness, swelling, a halo-like or target like bump over the bite area on the skin, generalized body pain, burning in the soles of the feet and abdominal pain.

Safety Around Wild Animals and Reptiles (Tweet this)

In many places around the country, there are a variety of wild animals. It is important to reinforce appropriate human-animal behaviors with children in order to help keep them safe.

  • Children should not mingle with wild animals like raccoons, bats, skunks or foxes because these animals carry rabies. It is a good idea for children to stay away from any animal that is wild or one that they don't know.
  • All stray animals that exhibit unusual behavior should be reported to the local animal control agency, which you can find on the Internet by searching for, “Animal control agency.”
  • Vaccinate your household pets.
  • Children should never handle dead animals and should tell an adult if they find one.
  • Rattlesnakes like dry warm weather as much as humans do. If you hear a rattle while out exploring, do not allow children or pets to go near it. Be especially careful when climbing rocks. Teach children not to play with wild snakes. If a child is bitten, they should be seen immediately at their local emergency department.
  • If hiking near the coast, be very careful. Tide pools can be wonderful chances to explore. Do not let kids grab the animals they see in the pools as many can be poisonous. Also, kids exploring rocks near the ocean can be swept away by a large wave.

Empower Kids to be Safe and Smart Hiking Heroes (Tweet this)

Hiking should never be done alone and without hydration and snacks. Some other safety tips to consider are:

  • Before hiking, tell someone where you will be.
  • Stay on the trail and avoid rubbing the edges of the brush.
  • Teach kids to identify plants and animals on the trail, as a fun game.
  • Use sunscreen, apply insect repellent and wear long pants, sleeves and a hat, to protect your skin.
  • Pick up trash, and if you see someone else’s trash, pick it up and throw it in the proper receptacle.

The many advantages of playing outdoors greatly outweigh the risks; however, parents play a big part in advocating for the safety of their children. Help teach them to appreciate and respect nature. See you on the trails!