Yes, I am concerned about Zika

 

mosuitoToday, Governor Rick Scott confirmed the first case of locally transmitted Zika to be reported outside of South Florida. The patient is in Pinellas County, which for those of you unfamiliar with Florida, is just outside the Tampa area. I live in the Orlando area. The new “hot zone” is roughly 125 miles from my house.

The World Health Organization reports the mosquitoes that carry Zika can only travel 0.2 miles. So, why would I be worried about it in Orlando? Mostly, my concern is due to the fact that I am an outdoors enthusiast and I am a woman of childbearing age. I am not pregnant, nor am I trying to get pregnant, but scientists have yet to reign in this virus. I know they are working hard on researching a vaccine at the CDC in Atlanta, but until it is proven effective and becomes widely available we are stuck relying on good old fashioned bug repellent and DEET to protect ourselves against Zika.

I am a mosquito magnet. I swear, no amount of DEET or citronella candles can keep the bugs off of me. My husband can testify that mosquitoes frequently chew on my limbs leaving large welts all over my body even when nobody else in our group has a single bite. I feel like I cannot protect myself in the Zika environment.

Fact is, scientists don’t know a lot about Zika. They are still researching its side-effects, not only in unborn children and newborns, but also in adults. Microcephaly is just one of many potential birth defects caused by Zika. A study published earlier this month in the British Medical Journal reported on research in Brazil that links severe joint deformities to Zika. The babies also had calcifications on their brain. The study was small and the cause and effect is unclear, but it is the perfect example of how little scientists really understand about the disease. Other studies have related Zika to infant blindness and trouble swallowing.

According to the CDC, the most common symptoms of Zika in adults are fever, rash, joint pain and pink-eye. But its longterm effects are unknown. A study published last week that was conducted by Stanford University researchers and scientists in Brazil suggests Zika may damage adult brain cells as well, potentially causing memory loss. The study was conducted in mice, so it obviously needs more research, but these potentially unknown factors are downright scary to a healthy, outdoors loving adult like myself.

I’m definately not “freaked out” over Zika. But I admit, I do worry. Scientists aren’t sure exactly how long Zika stays in an adult body, so I have to wonder if a baby I concieve three years from now could be impacted by a mosquito that bites me today. In the meantime, I will continue my current lifestyle and the threat of Zika will not keep me out of the woods.

I encourage everyone to contact their local and state lawmakers and ask them to provide more federal and state funding to research and fight Zika. Also, please keep a close eye on standing water. We can’t do much about the swamps and puddles that nature provides, but we can dump out our bird feeders, trash bins, and other items that may be collecting rain water around our homes.

This Florida girl can’t afford to worry about a stupid bug.

The Dog Days of Summer: Hike the Heat with your Hound

The UV Index has soared to over 100 degrees Fahrenheit almost every day this month. If I dress correctly, get an early start, wear sunscreen and drink plenty of water I can still enjoy a hike. I know that I need to pace myself because of the heat. My dog, Arthur, doesn’t seem to make the same observation about the weather.

arthur leash

Arthur loves the freedom he receives on the trail and I can’t bare to leave him at home. If you feel the same way about your pet, here is some really important advice from two dog behavioral experts and outdoor enthusiasts.

Weather can be dangerous. 
Dean Milenkovic knew this when he took his two American Labrador Retrievers, Blue & Indigo on a 40-mile, 4-day through hike on the Appalachian Trail. Dean is a professional photographer and outdoors enthusiast who also happens to hike a lot with his pets. “During colder months  we go as often as 3 times a week with 2 moderate hikes of 3-6 miles and one longer hike 8-12 miles.  During the summer, we go once or twice a week.  We supplement this with trips to the beach and long morning walks.” The heat is the primary reason why his summer hikes run short. And for good reason. It is estimated that several hundred dogs die from heat stroke in the U.S. each year.

 

Early signs of heat stroke in dogs:
– panting
– hyper-salivation (excessive production of saliva)
– dry mucous membranes (nose is not wet)
– higher heart rate
– dogs may appear hyperactive & excitable
– American Kennel Association

Some dogs are more at risk than others, so it is important to recognize early warning signs before the condition becomes serious and to talk to your veterinarian if you have a dog with thick coat or medical issues.

Teena Patel, a dog behaviorist who owns the University of Doglando, stresses the importance of “heat checks” when spending a lot of time outdoors with your pets. She recommends checking a dog’s temperature and hydration by touching their ears, gums and paws every two hours during the afternoon heat. She also recommends choosing your trails wisely. “We pick trails that have shade canopies and we keep our hikes very short in the summer.  If we are in Georgia or North Carolina or someplace we don’t have to worry about gators, we intentionally choose trails with ponds or lakes so the dogs can swim and cool off.”

Water, Water, Water

arthur trail 2

That brings us to our next point: water. Dogs need about an ounce of water for every 10 pounds of body weight each day (Translation: a 50 lb. dog needs between 43 and 85 oz. of water per  day.)

Personally, I try to avoid letting my dog drink stagnant water for the same reasons we don’t drink it. Dogs are also prone to illnesses and parasites. Not to mention, some ponds and streams can be downright nasty. Patel reminds pet owners that no natural water sources can automatically be deemed safe. “We must be very careful of letting dogs drink out of lakes because many lakes have houses around them and people treat their yards with pesticides. When it rains the run off from their lawns go into the lake.” She allows her dogs to drink from fresh rain puddles, but even that is not for everyone. A dog with a poor immune system could be susceptible to anything.

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Arthur enjoying some cool water in the mountains of North Carolina

There are several options for easy-to-carry pet water bowls. I use something like this:

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Arthur’s Water Bottle

Always stay alert: 

Arthur goes insane when we are on a trail, especially if I allow him to run around off-leash. Once I started writing this blog it was brought to my attention that I should probably carry a better first aid kit for him. Milenkovic always carries an AKC First Aid Kit

He also establishes boundaries at the beginning of the hike and encourages his dogs to do voluntary check-ins and recalls by handing out high value treats. He says, “This can come in handy if the dog tries to take off after a deer, bird or a squirrel.  Leaping into tall grass or bushes after a deer can cause numerous cuts to both body and paws. Leaping into water to chase a bird can draw nearby alligators to investigate and pulling the dog by his tail out of the water with gator heading for you is not fun.”

Have a plan:

You never know what can happen on the trail. Write down the address and phone number for the closest emergency veterinarians, and make sure you are not hiking during hunting season. If you do hike in a location where hunting is a possibility,  get your dog a brightly colored vest.

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Hunters will be able to see Arthur better when he wears this vest.

You can also visit your state’s forestry website to find out which locations are open to hunters. For the state of Florida you can check here. It can be safe and fun to hike with your dog in the summer as long as you keep them hydrated, know the warning signs, and know who to call.

The Experts:

teena
Teena Patel is the founder and owner of the University of Doglando in Orlando, FL. She has more than a decade of experience in dog training and behavioral science. She has traveled the world observing how different cultures interact with canines. Read more about her here.

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Dean Milenkovic is the a professional photographer and outdoors enthusiast. He is the owner of two American Labrador Retrievers, Blue & Indigo. He and his dogs have taken numerous trips to the Carolinas. The longest being a 40 mile, 4-day through hike on the Appalachian Trail. Read more about Dean and his photography here.

 

3 Reasons to take baby hiking (and what doctors think about it.)

I set out to write about the benefits of hiking with a baby, but once I started doing a little research I found that most parenting websites either don’t recommend it or offer suggestions and tips that seem overly cautious, especially to an experienced hiker.  Here are 3 reasons why I believe babies belong on the trail.k hikes

1.) It is healthy: As new mothers, our bodies are wrecked. Hiking is a great way to get in shape and lose the baby weight. Depending on your body size, fitness level, trail speed, and hiking terrain you can burn upwards of 700 calories in just two miles! (source: livestrong.com)  Consider this: A woman who weighs 150lbs. burns an extra 200+ calories for each hour she wears her infant. (source: myfitnesspal.com)  Hiking also works your core muscles, helping you regain stability and strength after birth.

It isn’t just about fitness. Hiking also exposes you and the baby to Vitamin D filled sunshine which is critical in the postpartum weeks, especially for mothers who breastfeed. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfed babies take Vitamin D supplements due to a lack of exposure to sunlight.

“If baby gets enough sunlight, mom’s deficiency is unlikely to be a problem for baby. However, if baby is not producing enough vitamin D from sunlight exposure, then breastmilk will need to meet a larger percentage of baby’s vitamin D needs. ” – Kellymom.com

You still need to be smart about it. Pediatricians encourage parents to always lather their babies in sunscreen and keep them covered against the sun’s dangerous UV rays.

2.) It is therapeutic:
I honestly don’t know if I would have made it through those early postpartum weeks so easily if I hadn’t quickly hit the trail with my new little hiking buddy. Konnor was only a few days old the first time I took him into the great outdoors for a stroll around the neighborhood and within weeks I was strapping him into my Tula carrier with an infant insert and heading to one of our favorite nearby trails. The sunshine, the mossy oak trees, the cicadas buzzing, and the birds chirping all helped me relax and relish the overwhelming new love that had come into my life. The trail made me believe in myself and focus on the positive aspects of childbirth rather than the trauma of what my body had experienced. In those early postpartum weeks I felt stronger and more confident than ever before. I rocked FIVE DAYS of labor, including 3 1/2 hours of pushing to bring Konnor into this world. I defied statistics by managing to give birth vaginally despite the odds laid out against me. For the first time in my life, I recognized the strength and power within my body. Hiking during that “fourth trimester,” as many call it, helped me hold onto that confidence.

Clearly, I am not the only new mother who finds hiking therapeutic. There’s a group in Salt Lake City, Utah that hosts an event every year called “Climb out of the Darkness.” The event bills itself as the world’s largest event raising awareness of maternal mental illness. The woman who runs the group’s facebook page, Lindsay, says “Hiking and being in nature is calming for me. It allows me to think, to process and distracts me from the constant worries motherhood can often bring. It’s sometimes hard with little ones to get outside but I always feel better after I do.” (You can read more about them here. There are chapters all over the nation.)

3.) It is stimulating:
The breeze shakes the leaves on the trees creating a soft rustling sound above. My boots smash leaves and pine-needles into the ground producing a “crunch, crunch, crunch” below. The wind picks up the scent of a freshly mowed cow pasture two miles away sending a distinct scent of earthiness (or is that just manure?) into the nostrils. A flock of hidden birds startles in the nearby tall grass and lifts off the ground all at once. These are things we may not notice when we go for a walk, but imagine how profound these actions must seem to someone who has never experienced any senses before. Babies begin exploring the second they are born. By taking your infant on a hike you are teaching the baby how to become aware of the environment.

An article published by the University of Cyprus references several benefits of outdoor play. That includes physical development, independence and  learning to care about the environment. The author also explains how a parent can help a newborn benefit from spending time outside.

“For children 0-3 months: Provide a blanket for the baby to lay on. Point out the leaves moving, let them feel the leaves or grass, and point out the nature sounds that they hear.”  (To read the UCY article in full click here.)

The nitty-gritty:
If you do a quick Google search for hiking and babies you will find websites that recommend leaving a newborn at home and only allowing an infant under six-months-old to join you on a short hike that lasts no longer than an hour or two. Of course, it is up to the mother and her doctors to decide what is comfortable for her and her baby. I took Konnor out for entire day hikes when he was just a couple of months old. He went on a 3-night backpacking trip with us when he was between 7-8 months old. It’s perfectly safe as long as you take smart precautions. Mothers should never go against their doctors orders. Hiking, depending on the terrain, can be extremely strenuous. You should avoid attempting anything even remotely difficult or outside your usual comfort level until you get that 6-week seal of approval from your doctor.

The same rings true for the baby. It is always a good idea to talk to your pediatrician beforehand. Don’t forget bug spray and sunscreen if your baby is old enough to wear it.  If you live in Florida, like me, the sweltering summer may mean you have to be choosier about which trails to hike during certain times of the day and year. Hats, long sleeves, and a carrier with a canopy cover are also wise choices if it is sunny or buggy.

I cannot imagine being too afraid to get outside with my baby. Lets teach our future trail blazers how to hike!hike 2

Dealing with Alligators: Tips from a Florida Girl

I’ve lived in Florida my entire life and have spent plenty of time in and around alligator infested waters. Below are my tips for avoiding an unwelcome encounter:

1.) Assume there is an alligator in the water.
They live pretty much everywhere. We have a small retention pond in our backyard. 90% of the time it is alligator-free, but since that 10% exists we have to keep an eye on it. Don’t think that big gators only live in big rivers. My husband once saw a 14-foot gator swimming in the Little Econlockhatchee. We’ve even seen gators swimming in salt water!

gator 4
I bet there’s a gator in there… (Black Bear Wilderness Area, Sanford)

2.) There’s a saying in Florida…
If you see one gator there are 10 more lurking right below the surface. I have no idea if there is any scientific proof to this saying, but it seems like a good rule to live by.

3.) Do not be afraid.
It is a good idea to be cautious and respectful of alligators. It is a bad idea to panic and make a big scene. If you are near the water and you see an alligator your best bet is to slowly walk away. If you are in the water and you see a gator do not splash or act distressed. Typically, they are more afraid of you than you are of them.

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Getting close to a gator in a controlled setting is best. (Midway Airboat Rides, Christmas, FL)

4.) Stay away from the grassy parts.
Every Floridian knows alligators nest in the grassy part of the water. Lilly pads, thick algae and debris make great cover. The water is usually full of tannins in those areas too which makes it difficult to see below the surface.

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The grassy parts… stay away from the grassy parts (Christmas, FL)

5.) Don’t go in if you’re not confident
I’ve been swimming in Florida waterways my entire life. I always weigh the risk before getting into the water. If its gator mating season or if I’m in a stretch of river known to be the home of an aggressive gator, I will not step foot in the water.

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Just chillin’ by the water’s edge at 30 weeks pregnant (Flagler Trail, Econ River)

6.) Do not swim at night
I would never swim or walk along the edge of a Florida waterway at night. (See number one if you are confused as to why.)