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Summer safety: Take steps to take care of yourself

With all you’ve been through, or are going through, it’s important to enjoy the simple pleasures of life after transplant. The warmth of the sun, the fresh summertime air, an outdoor barbecue with family and friends.

By taking a few special precautions, you can enjoy the summertime and protect your health. Read on to learn about ways to stay healthy this summer.

Reducing your exposure to UV rays

The strong summertime sun can damage anyone’s skin. But as a transplant recipient, a sunburn is a much bigger deal for you than it is to others. That’s because sunlight can trigger graft-versus-host disease (GVHD), even years after transplant.

To lower your risk of GVHD, you’ll need to avoid the sun as much as possible. But that doesn’t mean staying indoors all the time. Just following these common sense steps:

“Avoiding sun exposure should be life-long,” says Dr. Linda Burns, Vice President and Medical Director, Health Services Research at the National Marrow Donor Program®/Be The Match®. “We know, in addition to burning the skin, that sun exposure increases the risk of certain types of skin cancer.”

And don’t forget that even on a cool, overcast day the sun is just as harmful as on a hot, bright day.

Avoiding food-borne illnesses

Foodborne illnesses increase in the summer months because bacteria can multiply faster at warmer, more humid temperatures. Also, safe food handling is more difficult when food is prepared outside, as it often is at a summertime picnic or backyard party.

Be The Match’s JJ Barten, a Registered Dietitian, offers these tips to help decrease your risk of getting a foodborne illness:

  • On hot summer days above 90° F, prepared foods should not be left out for longer than 1 hour. Getting foods back into the refrigerator or freezer within 2 hours is recommended when the temperature is under 90° F.
  • When you’re getting the grill ready to use, make sure raw meats stay below 40° F until they are ready to be cooked.
  • Use a meat thermometer to make sure that beef, pork and fish are cooked to 145° F, ground meats to 160° F, and chicken and turkey to 165° F.
  • Avoid cross contamination when packing a cooler by using different containers to keep raw meats, poultry and fish separate from all other foods.

JJ says that careful planning is a good way to stay safe. For example:

  • Be one of the first people to eat. This helps make sure the food is at a safe temperature and there is less risk of cross contamination.
  • Bring your own food to events. Then you can be sure food was prepared safely.
  • Bring an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with you if you’re not sure there will be a place to wash your hands with soap and water before eating.

And finally, JJ suggests that if there is any question on whether a food item or a beverage is safe, throw it out.

For more information about summertime food safety, visit

Other summertime hazards to avoid

There are other outdoor risks in the summer, too. Dust and dirt from building sites, fields, gardens, and lawns can increase your exposure to harmful molds.

“Regarding dust and dirt, it’s best to avoid it in the first place,” says Dr. Burns. “Stay away from construction sites and farm lands, and ask your doctors when it’s safe for you to mow grass or work in the garden or flower beds."

Swimming in pools or lakes could also be risky, because these may be contaminated with harmful bacteria such as Cryptosporidium, and E. coli. Dr. Burns says it’s best to avoid swimming in pools or lakes until your doctors gives you the go-ahead.

Finally, Dr. Burns recommends taking simple, common sense precautions and being aware of your surroundings. “Carrying a broad-brimmed hat, ample sunscreen, a face mask, and water with you during your daily activities can help keep you prepared for the unexpected.”

Questions to ask your doctor:
• When is it safe for me to work in the yard or garden? To go swimming?
• Are there any special precautions I should take if I’m going to the beach, pool, farm or woods this summer?