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Introducing the most common types of summer illness in Hong Kong

Summer has officially arrived! Most people associate the summer season with beach holidays, junk trips, pina coladas, and a general desire to relax outdoors. However, the blistering heat can also bring additional risks to your health. To help you stay healthy this summer, we’ve shared in today’s article some of the most common types of summer illness in Hong Kong, and what you can do to avoid them.

Food poisoning

Did you know? 48 million people suffer from food poisoning each year, and roughly 128,000 are hospitalized as a result of foodborne infections. While foodborne illnesses can occur year-round, the sweltering summer heat allows bacteria to thrive, thus increasing the risk of food contamination.

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While most people only experience mild symptoms that go away on its own after several days, foodborne illness can be quite serious and sometimes even deadly. It is therefore essential to be aware of food poisoning symptoms and seek medical help should you experience them. Here are some of the most common food poisoning symptoms to watch out for:

  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Headaches
  • Fever

How to avoid it: Below are 4 easy yet essential things you can do to avoid food-borne bacteria (e.g. Salmonella):

  • Cook meat thoroughly before eating it
  • Follow this rule when preparing meals: boil it, cook it, peel it, or forget about it!
  • Refrigerate food items
  • Be cautious of uncovered food (e.g. street food, buffet)

Heat stroke

As one of the most common types of summer illness, this one is arguably the most deadly. Heat stroke is a medical emergency caused by failure of the body’s temperature-regulating system when exposed to searing temperatures (above 40 degrees Celsius for adults, and 40.5 degrees for children).

Heat strokes actually happen fairly frequently in Hong Kong, with the most at risk being the elderly, young children/infants, and pregnant women. Last month, the maximum temperature recorded was on May 31 – at 35.5 degrees Celsius. Accompanying last month’s spike in temperature was a worrying increase in heat stroke cases compared to April. In fact, some of the most critical cases occurred in popular hiking spots like Ap Lei Chau and Cape D’Aguilar.

Many people make the mistake of delaying medical attention when encountering a heat stroke, as its symptoms are often confused with heat exhaustion symptoms. To provide clarity on the key differences and similarities between heat exhaustion and heat stroke symptoms, we’ve created the below comparison table:

Symptoms Heat exhaustion Heat stroke
Dizziness/headache Dizzy/faint Throbbing headache
Sweating Excessive sweating No sweating
Skin temperature Cool, clammy, pale Red, hot, and dry
Nausea/Vomiting Nausea or vomiting Nausea or vomiting
Pulse Rapid, weak Rapid, strong
Consciousness Conscious (with cramps) May lose consciousness

 

How to avoid it: It is extremely important to take all necessary precautions to beat the heat and avoid heat stroke. These include:

  • Keeping yourself hydrated by drinking plenty of water and beverages with electrolytes
  • Avoiding caffeine and alcohol (these drinks are known to cause dehydration)
  • Avoid exercising outdoors, especially when it’s scorching
  • Avoid sunburn – sunburns reduce the body’s ability to rid itself of heat

Dehydration

Dehydration can occur when you lose more fluid than you consume and – as a result – your body does not have enough water/fluids to carry out certain functions. While it can happen at any age, it is especially dangerous among older adults and young children. Dehydration is sometimes termed a summer illness as people are more likely to lose fluids via excessive sweating in the hot weather.

Signs and symptoms of dehydration vary, but will typically consist of the following in adults:

  • Dark-colored urine
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Extreme thirst
  • Fatigue

Excessive dehydration can lead to severe health conditions like heat stroke, seizures, urinary and kidney problems, and low blood volume shock.

How to avoid it: Dehydration is fairly easy to avoid. Here are several points to remember:

  • Don’t wait until you’re feeling thirsty to drink water – make it a habit to drink regularly (6 to 8 cups) throughout the day
  • Adopt a balanced diet that includes fruits and vegetables. This food group contains large amounts of water.
  • Try your best to avoid drinking too much alcohol – it can dehydrate you

Sunburn

Sunburn is another very common summer illness, and is caused by exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays. It can be easy to underestimate how damaging the sun can be, especially when you’re swimming in the sea – which gives your skin a cooling sensation, temporarily masking the sore and tender feeling people get when they’re sunburnt.

While it’s usually quite short-lived, and can be treated at home with aloe vera gel, frequent sunburns can lead to more serious problems in the long term, such as premature ageing of the skin and skin cancer (both melanoma and non-melanoma).

How to avoid it: To prevent your skin from sunburn, it is recommended that you wear:

  • Sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 – it is important to apply it liberally and frequently
  • Long-sleeved clothing if possible (e.g. loose long trousers and tops)
  • A wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses to protect your face and eyes

Make sure you have comprehensive health insurance protection

While this does not directly protect you from summer illness, having the right expat health insurance plan will ensure that should you or a family member suffer a heat-related condition, you will receive the treatment you need without paying bank-breakingly expensive medical bills.

If you have any questions about securing expat health insurance in Hong Kong, get in touch with our expert team today. With almost 20 years of experience matching expats and their families with the best health insurance plans for their needs, our repertoire of insurance solutions can be tailored to cover a wide range of benefits, such as:

  • Maternity insurance
  • Dental treatment
  • International health insurance
  • Inpatient insurance
  • Outpatient insurance
  • Pre-existing conditions coverage
  • And many more!

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