Hantavirus, bear attacks, and West Nile virus, oh my! Recent headlines are enough to make even the most intrepid camper doubt the value of visiting campgrounds any time soon. But with smart preparation and some flexibility, you can have a safe and enjoyable camping experience. According to research on accidents and injuries among visitors to national parks across the United States, an average of three people die each week in parks due to unintentional injuries and accidents and about 14 are seriously injured daily. The causes of these injuries are more commonplace than you might think, with drowning, car accidents, and falls topping the list.
Fears grew after nine people who stayed in Curry Village cabins in Yosemite National Park contracted hantavirus, a potentially severe respiratory disease spread through contact with dust from rodent feces. Three of them died. Despite the seriousness of the disease, hantavirus infection is a far less likely outcome of camping than insect bites or simple injury from scrapes and falls.
Know that you’re less likely to encounter rodents if you stay in your own tent or if you camp in the back country than if you book cabins maintained by a park. Should you check into a cabin or lodge and see signs of rodents, ask to be moved to a different cabin or a different part of the park, advises camping and outdoor adventure expert Aram Attarian, PhD, an associate professor in the parks, recreation, and tourism management department at North Carolina State University. Planning for Safe Camping If you’re new to camping, prep steps may seem daunting at first. But once you get into the safe camping habit, you’ll be ready to enjoy adventures for years to come: Research the campgrounds. Learn about the area where you'll be staying or want to explore. Read the weather forecast and adjust your plans accordingly. For example, says Attarian,
“You don’t want to be on the summit of the Rocky Mountains at noon or after because that is when you run into thunderstorms.
” Make sure you pack equipment and clothing to get through periods of rain, wind, or temperature change. Take sunscreen, hats, and light clothes for hot weather and plenty of warm clothes for cool or cold weather. Wash your hands. “You can transfer a lot of bacteria if you are handling food after using the bathroom,” notes Attarian. Use soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer after bathroom visits, before and after preparing food or eating, and after coming into contact with animals or animal products. Also wash down surfaces where you prepared or eat food. Prepare for insects. Bees, wasps, ticks, and mosquitoes are the more common hazards for campers. Use bug repellent to prevent mosquito bites and learn how to protect against ticks or remove them quickly. Carry an antihistamine or an EpiPen if you could have a strong reaction to stings.
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