Play it safe at the fair

Doctors say washing hands, drinking plenty of fluids, preparing for sun key to fun

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian Health Reporter



Vancouver native Dennis Kostman dressed for the weather in 2012.

Adam and Sarah Cardona of Salem, Ore., watch the afternoon Monster Truck Show at the fair. Earplugs are advised over hands for keeping ears safe.

Parents should frequently offer kids fluids because they may not ask for a drink on their own.

The summer’s best party — the Clark County Fair — is in full swing. And local health officials want you to enjoy carnival rides, farm animals and fair food (in moderation, of course) without putting your health at risk.

Dr. Alan Melnick, Clark County health officer, and Dr. Michael Albrich, medical director for emergency services at Legacy Salmon Creek Medical Center, shared some advice for making your trip to the fair fun and safe.

o Wash your hands after visiting animal exhibits. “Generally, the fair is a safe place to be, as long as you use good common sense when handling animals,” Melnick said.

Adults and children should wash their hands after petting or handling any animals at the fair. Animals may appear clean and healthy, but they can carry bacteria that may make humans sick, such as E. coli and salmonella.

The bacteria can be transmitted through animal manure, which can get on an animal’s body or anything else it touches, including its enclosure.

“Even if you’ve been in the animal exhibit and haven’t touched anything, wash your hands,” Melnick said.

Parents should also keep a close eye on kids, especially those younger than 5 years old, Melnick said. Young kids may want to put their fingers in the animals’ mouths or try to give the animal their pacifier, potentially exposing themselves to bacteria, he said.

Parents should supervise kids’ hand-washing, to ensure their hands are cleaned thoroughly, Melnick said.

When washing, be sure to use soap and water, which dissolves the organic material. Hand sanitizer should only be used if soap and water isn’t available, he said.

o Don’t bring food or drinks into animal exhibits. Animals can spread bacteria to anything they come into contact with, and that includes food and drink straws.

“Only prepare, serve and eat where animals are not allowed,” Melnick said.

Melnick also advises against sharing food with animals.

o Speaking of animals, don’t bring your pets to the fairgrounds and leave them in your car. The temperature inside a vehicle — even one parked in the shade with windows cracked — can rise quickly. Don’t put your animals at risk, Melnick said.

“Do not leave your animal in your car while you’re enjoying the fair,” he said.

o Prepare for the heat. Be sure to drink plenty of water while at the fair, Albrich said. Parents should also be sure to offer kids fluids frequently because they may not ask for a drink on their own, he said.

“If they go and they’re not prepared for the heat and the dry, they’re gonna start feeling bad and not enjoy the fair,” Albrich said.

Drinks are readily accessible from vendors, but if you don’t want to purchase water, bring your own wattle bottle, Albrich said.

Visitors are allowed to bring water bottles and snacks into the fair, but all items will be searched at the entrance gates. Unopened water bottles are preferred, according to fair staff.

People with certain medical conditions and those taking certain medications can become dehydrated more quickly than most people, Albrich said. For example, diabetics and people taking certain antidepressants are at risk, he said.

For those people, it’s especially important to drink water throughout the day, Albrich said.

If you start feeling too warm while walking around the fairgrounds, find some shade and rest, Albrich said. Don’t wait until you start feeling ill to take a break and cool down, he said.

o Dress for the weather. Your clothing can also help you stay cool at the fair, Albrich said. Light clothing and hats are great choices, he said.

“I know hats aren’t very cool, but if they’re in open sun for a long time, hats can make a difference, especially for men with less hair than they once had,” Albrich said.

Kids should also be wearing appropriate clothing and hats — “even if it’s a funny-looking fair hat” — to help keep the sun off them, Albrich said. Hats are especially important for little ones who don’t have much hair, he said.

And before heading out the door, be sure to apply sunscreen with SPF 30, Albrich said. If you plan to stay at the fair longer than four or five hours, bring the sunscreen with you and reapply, he said.

o Use the earplugs. Some events at the grandstands, such as the monster trucks, can be pretty loud, Albrich said. The open air arena helps reduce the sound some, but the trucks can still be extremely noisy, he said.

“If they’re handing out ear plugs, you should definitely take them,” Albrich said.

o Remember: All things in moderation. When indulging in fair food and drinks, moderation is best. That’s especially true when it comes to alcohol, Albrich said.

Alcohol dehydrates you quicker and, because it opens your blood vessels, will make you get warmer quicker than you would otherwise, Albrich said.

“If you want to walk and enjoy what you’re seeing … keep alcoholic beverages to a minimum,” he said.