Some of our favorite things to do in the summer come with health implications that are also predominant during warm weather. From eating outdoors to playing outside, let’s talk about how your pharmacy can equip patients to better manage the season.
Fight food poisoning
Bacteria appreciate warmth by multiplying like crazy, and when you’re prepping food outdoors, handling it safely is more complicated than when you’re closer to the kitchen sink. The end result is a peak in foodborne illness during the summer. At best, food poisoning is a lousy way to end what was supposed to be a fun day; at worst, it can be life-threatening.
If you stock seasonal items for cookouts and picnics, or even just food-related merchandise, consider placing safety-oriented items nearby, including hand wipes, sanitizer, food thermometers, and coolers. A poster or chalkboard to remind customers of the USDA’s basic tips for safe food handling will both educate them and encourage purchasing behavior.
Let’s start with plants. Rashes from poison oak or ivy are common summertime annoyances, so you might want to pull out your hydrocortisone creams, calamine lotions, OTC antihistamines, and oatmeal-based soaps for a special display. You could include plant illustrations or samples with a big “Do Not Touch” sign guaranteed to attract attention.
The risk from summertime insects can be a little more complicated to address. Mosquitoes top the list of threats, carrying illnesses including West Nile virus. But in some locations ticks are a major threat. Reported cases of tick-borne diseases such as Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever have roughly doubled over the last decade. Whether explained by higher temperatures, humidity, and host-animal numbers, or by increased awareness and testing, it’s a significant trend.
Remind patients to inspect themselves and their children frequently and make sure they’re aware of the common signs of a tick bite. Offer insect repellents like DEET for sale and educate customers on their proper use, such as when children are too young for them. Consider a bag stuffer with general insect-avoidance tips, such as 1. Mosquitoes like dawn and dusk best. 2. Cover up when you’re in the woods and high grass – put your socks over your pants legs. 3. Think about permethrin-treated clothing. 4. Shower when back inside, check for ticks daily, and remove them immediately.
A different idea is a poster or flyer “How to Remove Ticks the Right Way.” It could include steps like these, along with relevant merchandise placed nearby:
- Use tweezers – not fingers, nail polish, or Vaseline.
- Grasp close to your skin and pull up steadily. Don’t jerk, or you could leave the tick’s mouth.
- Clean area with soap, iodine, or rubbing alcohol. Seal up the tick in a baggie before disposing.
More intense sunshine, less clothing, and longer times outside make sunburn a real staple of summer. Naturally, it’s a good time to stock sunscreen in the pharmacy and to call it out by prominent placement or signage, but your expertise with medications is also relevant here.
For example, when you fill prescriptions that have implications for sun exposure, alert patients. Ask about all the other medicines they’re using – you can even suggest they dump everything in a bag and come back so you can check how big a problem it might be. Reassure them they don’t need to stay out of the sun and that vitamin D has its benefits, but they do need to take appropriate preventive measures:
- Limit midday sun exposure
- Use a sunscreen with UV-A and UV-B protection
- Reapply it every 2 to 3 hours or after sweating or swimming
- Use a hat and protective clothing
- Keep an eye on any moles they have
- See a dermatologist regularly
All this talk of how your pharmacy can address summertime ailments isn’t rocket science, of course. It’s really about giving focused thought to how the season should influence your patient care and merchandising. Just like with other summertime fun, preparation can go a long way.