Springtime suggests rebirth and the time when flowers, trees, vegetation, and other dormant species begin to bloom. It’s a beautiful time of year and with it comes optimism for the months ahead. It also means that summer isn’t far behind and with it, longer and warmer days -- the kind of environment that is conducive to abundant growth of things seen and unseen.
Among the unseen, pathogens such as bacteria and fungus tend to thrive in warm, dark, and moist conditions.
What does this mean to the average person? What about the higher risk individual who is afflicted with diabetes or some other condition that compromises their ability to fight infection?
As we have seen with the COVID-19 pandemic, those who have been most severely impacted by the virus have been those in the latter group. This group is also at greater risk for developing bacterial and fungal infections during the summer months, as this is when such organisms proliferate due to optimal conditions for their growth. This automatically puts the high-risk groups at increased risk not only because of more abundant pathogens being present, but also because they tend to be in situations where they can encounter such organisms.
A simple illustration of warm, dark, moist environment is the inside of a shoe. Fungal organisms are ubiquitous and are easily transmitted from soil, surfaces, or skin. Athlete’s foot is one example of a fungal infection (caused by one or more organisms) that can become more prominent in summer months. Wearing the same shoe each day creates a setting where moisture from perspiration and the environment is exacerbated by the ambient increased temperature, allowing fungus to persist. Putting your foot back into that shoe again is akin to placing it into a fungus incubator. The fungal organisms that cause athlete’s foot can also be transmitted to the nails and lead to the fungal infection of the nails known as onychomycosis.
If you have ever been inside a hospital, it may seem the thermostats are set to “cold” all year long. If you have ever been inside an operating room, you probably noticed it even colder there. This is by design. As much as pathogens love warm weather, they are inhibited by colder temperatures. Infection control in a hospital, and especially an O.R., are essential steps to ensure fewer complications (e.g. infections), better outcomes and enhanced safety.
What can you do to protect yourself from skin infections, especially during the summer months? Most important is adherence to good hygiene, especially washing your hands and including washing your feet! Even if you shower twice a day, fungus can thrive on the surface of your shower floor, so standing barefooted while showering can create that same setting where a fungal infection can occur. Therefore, washing your feet with soap and water or even an antifungal soap, such as Funga Soap (PediFix), is highly recommended.
Daily inspection of the skin, especially if you are diabetic, is an important routine to develop, as a skin infection called “cellulitis” is quite common among diabetics. It is usually caused by staph or strep, two kinds of bacterial organisms found on our skin. If breaks in the skin occur due to injury or even swelling, bacteria can enter the body.
The summer months can lead to more damage to the skin due to dehydration, exposure to the sun, salt and chemicals found in water where we swim, or even other nuisances such as insect bites, poison ivy/oak/sumac, making us more susceptible to skin infection. These can all injure the skin and allow bacteria to enter the body. Again, hygiene is important in preventing bacterial skin infections, and besides bathing, protecting the skin once or twice daily with Omeza® skin protectant is also highly recommended.
Summer is a wonderful time of year and is a time for enjoying the outdoors and Mother Nature’s blessings. Enjoy the summer -- and be smart, stay safe and keep living!
-Dr. Desmond Bell