From fireworks to COVID, what are the biggest July 4 health hazards?

Photo of Amanda Cuda

The annual Independence Day holiday is a time of fireworks and fun, but it can also be dangerous. At least one local emergency medical doctor said he typically sees a spike in patients in the days following July 4.

“Like most holidays, people tend to be out and about enjoying themselves, so we tend be less busy (on the fourth itself),” said Dr. Justin Cahill, interim chair of the Bridgeport Hospital emergency department. “But the day after, we see quite a surge of patients.”

Here are some of the biggest Fourth of July health hazards, according to local experts.

Fireworks

“Far and away the biggest concern is always fireworks,” said Dr. Alan Weiner, chair of emergency service Stamford Hospital. “That’s what distinguishes this holiday weekend from every other holiday weekend.”

According to the United States Consumer Products Safety Commission, deaths and injuries from fireworks-related incidents went up 50 percent between 2019 and 2020. The report showed at least 18 people died from fireworks-related incidents in 2020, compared to 12 the previous year. Also, about 15,600 people were treated in hospital emergency departments for fireworks injuries in 2020, compared with 10,000 in 2019.

Cahill confirmed pyrotechnic problems are a big holiday concern.

“Every year we see at least one injury from fireworks,” he said. “For the most part it’s a hand injury. Either people are too close to the firework when it goes off or it goes off in their hand and it can cause really severe injuries.”

Drowning

Swimming is another favorite holiday activity. But it, too, carries risks.

“Pool and swimming safety are always important,” Cahill said. “Drowning can be quite tragic.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that drowning deaths are the second leading cause of unintentional injury and deaths for children aged 0 to 17 years and the leading cause for those aged 1 to 4.

James Dodington, medical director of the Center for Injury and Violence Prevention at Yale New Haven Hospital said families can have fun on the water, but should do it safely. He said the American Academy of Pediatrics has stated that “the safest way to be in water with a child who is not a swimmer is to be at arm’s length” from them, so that can be easily helped if in distress.

Motor vehicle accidents

Experts said motor vehicle accidents are a particular risk during holiday weekends.

“I think there are more folks on the road now, despite gas prices,” said Brian McCambley, director of the advanced practice providers emergency department at Danbury and New Milford hospitals. “I think there’s a higher potential for motor vehicle accidents and collisions.”

Accidents in which drivers are impaired by alcohol or drugs are a big enough problem that 12 trauma centers from across the state joined together last year for the “Not One More” campaign. The campaign encourages Connecticut drivers to sign an online pledge that they will not drive impaired at NotOneMore.org.

“Unimpaired driving is really critical,” Dodington said.

Food Poisoning

Another problem that emergency rooms see at the holidays is food poisoning, largely from eating food that has been sitting at room temperature for too long.

“When you think of families getting together, you often think of these large buffets sitting out for hours on a hot day,” said Dr. Steven Valassis, chair of emergency medicine at St. Vincent’s Medical Center in Bridgeport. “You’re going to get some food poisoning.”

Heat stroke and sun exposure

The CDC says that heat stroke is the most serious heat-related illness, and occurs when the body can no longer control its temperature. When heat stroke occurs, the body temperature can rise to 106 degrees Fahrenheit or higher within 10 to 15 minutes. July 4 is often a hot day, and experts said heat-related issues can be common during the holiday.

“When the weather is good, you’re going to see people out in the sun too long and not hydrated properly,” Valassis said.

COVID-19

Though COVID-19 numbers in the state are relatively manageable, experts caution that the illness is still out there.

“COVID hasn’t gone away,” Weiner said. “There’s still a lot of COVID out there. Fortunately most of the COVID we’re seeing is not causing serious illness.”

McCambley agreed.

“Covid is still ever present,” he said. “The more folks can be outside and spaced out the better.”