Being safe with July 4 staples of firecrackers and hot dogs


June 29, 1993|By Dr. Genevieve Matanoski | Dr. Genevieve Matanoski,Contributing Writer

Many of us plan picnics for family and friends to celebrate the Fourth of July. Susan Baker, the founding director of the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health's Injury Prevention Center, offers some tips to women and their families to help ensure a safe, happy July 4 -- a time when the risk of injury increases.

What's the most serious hazard on the Fourth of July?

Most deaths on this holiday weekend involve motor vehicle crashes and drowning, but firecrackers, bottle rockets and sparklers caused more than 11,000 hospitalized injuries in 1991. Of these 11,000, the majority were to children under 15. In Maryland, sale of firecrackers is illegal, and we are fortunate because states in which a variety of fireworks are legally sold have a seven times greater risk of injury compared with states that strictly limit their availability. The bottom line is: don't give fireworks to children and don't leave them around for children to find.

How else to plan for a safe July 4?

We've written in recent weeks about bicycle helmet use and water safety and the need for everyone to know CPR. According to Ms. Baker, drownings and deaths from being struck by lightning reach a peak in July and one way to prevent these deaths is to have someone close by who knows CPR.

I asked Ms. Baker if there are other hazards that might be less well-known to women and she gave me what she calls her "frank talk about hot dogs" speech. Hamburgers, hot dogs and watermelon may be the staples of a successful July Fourth picnic, but hot dogs can spell danger for young children.

The round shape, slick surface and cohesive nature of the hot dog makes it a perfect plug for a young child's airway. In a national study, Ms. Baker found that the most common cause of choking death for children ages 1 to 3 is suffocation on a bit of hot dog. If you want to feed hot dogs to your toddlers, she recommends slicing them in long, flat strips.

And, remember too, she adds, that excessive alcohol use is a key ingredient in drowning and many other holiday injuries.

With a little caution and forethought, the holidays can be a great time for injury-free relaxation and summer fun.

Dr. Matanoski is a physician and professor of epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health.

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