Outdoor Health and Safety
Visit these pages to learn about ways to enjoy safe and healthy outdoor experiences.
Blue-green algae look much like other, more common algae but they’re really a type of bacteria called "cyanobacteria." The Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) samples recreational bodies of water for blue-green algae when they are alerted to a potential algae bloom. Contact with high concentrations of the cyanobacteria can cause illness. KDHE issues a Public Health Watch or Public Health Warning based on either the presence of certain toxins, the number of cyanobacteria cells in the water or a combination of the two.
The Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism (KDWPT); the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation cooperate with KDHE when a Watch or Warning is issued to alert the public about potentially harmful algae blooms.
The Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) and the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism (KDWPT) are issuing revised fish consumption advisories for 2018. The advisories identify types of fish or other aquatic animals that should be eaten in limited quantities or, in some cases, avoided altogether because of contamination. General advice and internet resources are also provided to aid the public in making informed decisions regarding the benefits as well as the risks associated with eating locally caught fish from Kansas waters.
Bottom-feeding fish: buffalos, carp, carpsuckers, catfishes (except flathead catfish), sturgeons, and suckers.
Predatory fish: black basses, crappies, drum, flathead catfish, perches, sunfish, white bass, wiper, striper, walleye, saugeye, and sauger.
Shellfish: mussels, clams, and crayfish.
General Population: Men and women 18 years of age or older.
Sensitive Populations: Women who are pregnant, may become pregnant, or are nursing and children age 17 or younger.
Meal size (before cooking):
Adults and Children age 13 and older = 8 ounces
Children age 6 to 12 = 4 ounces
Children younger than 6 = 2 ounces
Kansas recommends the following consumption restrictions because of mercury in fish:
1. Sensitive Populations should restrict consumption of all types of locally caught fish, from waters or species of fish not specifically covered by an advisory to one meal per week because of mercury.
2. Largemouth, smallmouth, and spotted bass (black basses):
- A. Sensitive Populations should restrict consumption of these species to one meal per month because of mercury.
- B. General Public should restrict consumption of these species to one meal per week because of mercury.
Kansas has modified fish consumption advisories for portions of Cow Creek, the Kansas River, and Little Arkansas River because of decreased levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in bottom-feeding fish fillet samples collected in recent years.
Kansas recommends restricting consumption of bottom-feeding fish to one meal per week from the following location because of PCBs:
- Cow Creek in Hutchinson and downstream to the confluence with the Arkansas River (Reno County);
- The Kansas River from Lawrence (below Bowersock Dam) downstream to Eudora at the confluence of the Wakarusa River (Douglas and Leavenworth counties);
- The Little Arkansas River from the Main Street Bridge immediately west of Valley Center to the confluence with the Arkansas River in Wichita (Sedgwick County).
K-96 Lake in Wichita (Sedgwick County) – Kansas recommends restricting consumption of bottom-feeding fish to one meal per month because of PCBs.
Arkalon Park Lakes in Liberal (Seward County) – Kansas recommends not eating fish or other aquatic life because the lakes are sustained solely by treated municipal wastewater.
Kansas recommends not eating specified fish or aquatic life from the following locations:
- The Arkansas River from the Lincoln Street dam in Wichita downstream to the confluence with Cowskin Creek near Belle Plaine (Sedgwick and Sumner counties); bottom-feeding fish because of PCBs.
- Shoal Creek from the Missouri/Kansas border to Empire Lake (Cherokee County); shellfish because of lead and cadmium.
- The Spring River from the confluence of Center Creek to the Kansas/Oklahoma border (Cherokee County); shellfish because of lead and cadmium.
- Antioch Park Lake South in Antioch Park, Overland Park (Johnson County); all fish because of the pesticides dieldrin, heptachlor epoxide, chlordane, and dichlorophenyltrichloroethanes (DDTs).
- Sensitive populations should consider restricting their total mercury intake for both supermarket fish and locally caught species. Concerned parents and other persons may wish to consult with a physician about eating fish and mercury exposure.
- Mercury exposure can be reduced by limiting the consumption of large predatory fish. Larger/older fish of all types are more likely to have higher concentrations of mercury.
- Avoid the consumption of fish parts other than fillets, especially when eating bottom-feeding fish. Fatty internal organs tend to accumulate higher levels of fat-soluble contaminants such as chlordane and PCBs than fillets.
- Consumers can reduce their ingestion of fat-soluble contaminants such as chlordane and PCBs by trimming fat from fillets, and cooking in a manner in which fat drips away from the fillet.
- Avoid subsistence level (relying on wild-caught fish for daily nutritional needs) fishing activities in large rivers within or immediately downstream of large urban/industrial areas and wastewater outfalls. Fish in these areas are more likely to contain traces of chemical contaminants.
- Kansas recommends not eating fish or aquatic life from surface waters sustained solely by municipal or industrial wastewater because of unknown, yet potentially present pathogens, metals, organic chemicals or other emerging contaminants. This advisory includes consumption of any aquatic life present in wastewater outfalls, waste treatment lagoons or stormwater detention ponds.
- In waterbodies where watches or warnings related to harmful algae blooms have been applied, fish should be consumed in moderation and care taken to only consume skinless fillets. Avoid cutting into internal organs and rinse fillets with clean water prior to cooking or freezing.
To view the advisories online and for information about KDHE’s Fish Tissue Contaminant Monitoring Program please visit our website at: http://www.kdheks.gov/befs/fish_tissue_monitoring.htm
For information about harmful algal blooms, including current watches and warnings, visit this KDHE website: http://www.kdheks.gov/algae-illness/index.htm
For information about fishing in Kansas including licensing, regulations, fishing reports and fishing forecasts please visit the KDWPT fishing website: http://ksoutdoors.com/Fishing
For general information about mercury in fish, national advisories, and advisories in other states please visit this EPA website: http://www2.epa.gov/choose-fish-and-shellfish-wisely
For information about sensitive populations and mercury in fish please visit this FDA website: http://www.fda.gov/food/resourcesforyou/consumers/ucm110591.ht
For information regarding personal care products and pharmaceuticals in fish please visit this EPA website: https://www.epa.gov/fish-tech/pilot-study-pharmaceuticals-and-personal-care-products-fish-tissue
For information about the health benefits vs. the risks of including fish in your diet please visit this American Heart Association website: http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/NutritionCenter/Fish-101_UCM_305986_Article.jsp
For technical information regarding the EPA risk assessment methods used to determine advisory consumption limits please visit: http://www2.epa.gov/fish-tech
Deer can be spotted near roadways any time of the year, but motorists should be especially vigilant in the fall. Deer breeding season (rut) peaks in mid-November, and this marks the period when deer-vehicle collisions are most frequent. Spring also brings an increased number of deer-vehicle collisions.
During rut, deer focus on mating; they travel more than in other seasons and pay less attention to hazards such as vehicles. Many move to new locations as crops are harvested and leaves fall from trees and shrubs, so the deer are less secure than in their summer habitats.
Shorter fall days mean that dusk and dawn occur when commuter traffic is heaviest at the same time that deer are more likely to be on the move. Deer-vehicle crashes occur in all Kansas counties, but in most cases, counties with high human populations and high traffic volumes record the most crashes.
Tips to avoid deer collisions:
- Be especially watchful at dawn and dusk when deer are most active.
- Watch for more than one deer, as they seldom travel alone.
- Reduce speed and be alert near wooded areas or green spaces such as parks or golf courses and near water such as streams or ponds.
- Deer crossing signs indicate where high levels of deer/vehicle crashes have occurred in the past.
- Use your bright lights to help you detect deer as far ahead as possible.
- Don’t swerve to avoid hitting a deer – the most serious crashes sometimes occur when drivers swerve and collide with another vehicle or run off the road and hit an obstacle.
- Always wear a seat belt and use child safety seats for the kids. Even if you are waiting in your car, it is best to wear your seat belt, and have your children in car seats.
If you hit a deer or other animal:
- Slow down, pull as far onto the shoulder as possible and turn on your emergency flashers. If you have a cellular phone and are on a Kansas highway, dial *47 (*HP) for a highway patrol dispatcher, *582 (*KTA) for assistance on the Kansas Turnpike, or dial 911.
- Do not worry about the animal. Kansas Highway Patrol troopers or local law enforcement will worry about removing the animal from the road. If the animal is in the road, tell the dispatcher when you call for help.
- If possible, remain in your vehicle and buckled up, so if a crash occurs involving your car or another vehicle nearby, you are more protected than if you are in the roadway or on the shoulder.
- If you must be outside of your vehicle, make sure it is as far off the road as possible and your hazard lights are activated. Don’t stand between your vehicle and another vehicle and make sure your children are kept properly restrained in your vehicle.
- If you have exited your vehicle, stay alert for traffic. If your vehicle is disabled at night, wait for law enforcement with extra lights so your vehicle is more visible to other motorists.
A salvage tag is required to remove a deer carcass or any part of the carcass from a crash site. Tags can be issued by KHP troopers, sheriff’s deputies, or KDWPT game wardens.
Anyone involved in a vehicle-deer crash resulting in personal injury or property damage that totals $1,000 or more is required to immediately report the crash to the nearest law enforcement agency. Failure to report any traffic crash is a misdemeanor and may result in suspension of driving privileges.
If you are involved in a non-injury crash on an interstate, U.S. highway, or any divided or multi-lane road in the state of Kansas, and if you are not transporting hazardous materials, you are required by law to move your vehicle out of the lane of traffic. This law is intended to help keep drivers and passengers safe by getting them out of the lane of traffic and away from oncoming vehicles.
West Nile virus is most commonly spread by infected mosquitoes that have fed on infected birds. The disease was first detected in North America in 1999 and has spread across the continental U.S. and Canada. While all mosquitoes may look alike to the lay person, species of the genusCulexare the primary vectors for West Nile virus in the U.S.
Once a person is bitten by an infected mosquito, the incubation period for the virus ranges from 3 to 15 days. However, about 80 percent of persons infected by West Nile virus do not develop any symptoms. The remainder may develop a fever and other symptoms such as head and body aches, joint pains, vomiting, diarrhea or rash. Most people recover completely, although fatigue and weakness may persist for weeks or months. Less than one percent of infected patients develop a serious neurological illness such as encephalitis or meningitis. Approximately 10 percent of people with such neurological complications succumb to the infection. People who have had West Nile virus are considered immune.
The Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) began surveillance for West Nile virus in 2001, and the first human case was reported in Kansas in 2003. There were 54 cases reported in Kansas in 2014. KDHE conducts targeted mosquito surveillance in Sedgwick County and uses the information to assess the potential for West Nile virus transmission statewide.
KDHE recommends the following precautions to protect against West Nile virus:
- When outdoors, use insect repellent containing an EPA-registered active ingredient on skin and clothing, including DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus, or IR3535. Follow the directions on the package.
- Many mosquitoes are most active at dusk and dawn. Use insect repellent and wear long sleeves and pants at these times or consider staying indoors during these hours.
- Make sure doors and windows have tight-fitting screens. Repair or replace screens that have tears. Try to keep doors and windows shut, especially at night.
- Get rid of mosquito breeding sites by emptying standing water from flower pots, buckets and barrels. Change the water in outdoor pet dishes and replace the water in bird baths twice weekly. Drill holes in tire swings so water drains out. Keep children's wading pools empty and on their sides when they aren't being used.
Additional information about West Nile virus and preventing mosquito bites is available at www.kdheks.gov/westnilevirus
Spring and summer are hunting, fishing, camping, and hiking seasons. It is also the time of year when ticks are out. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) and the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism (KDWPT) remind those spending time outdoors to take precautions to prevent tick bites.
The ticks most often encountered in Kansas are the American dog tick, lone star tick and blacklegged tick (or deer tick). Ticks can transmit diseases, including ehrlichiosis, tularemia, anaplasmosis, Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. People are encouraged to follow these steps to prevent tick bites: Dress, DEET, Avoid and Check.
DRESS: Wear protective clothing when practical (long sleeves and pants). Clothing should be light-colored to make ticks more visible. When hiking, wear a long-sleeved shirt tucked into pants, long pants tucked into high socks and over-the-ankle shoes to keep ticks out. Products containing permethrin, which kills ticks rather than merely repelling them, can be applied to clothing and equipment but not directly to skin. Garments must be allowed to dry thoroughly before wearing. Clothing and tents pre-treated with permethrin are available, and the protection can remain active through several washings. Be sure to follow label directions.
DEET: Insect repellents also reduce the risk of being bitten. When outdoors, use insect repellant containing 20 percent to 30 percent DEET on exposed skin and clothing for protection that lasts up to several hours. Follow the directions on the label.
AVOID: Ticks are usually found on vegetation close to the ground. In addition to regular mowing, avoid wooded or bushy areas with tall grass and leaf litter and walk in the center of trails.
CHECK: Check yourself at least every two hours for ticks when outside for extended periods of time. Pay special attention to areas in and around your hair, ears, armpits, groin, navel and backs of the knees. Promptly remove a tick if one is found. The sooner a tick is removed, the less chance it will transmit a disease to its host. If you find a tick, grasp the tick with tweezers as close to the skin as possible and slowly pull it straight out. Do not crush or puncture the tick and try to avoid touching the tick with your bare hands. Thoroughly disinfect the bite area and wash your hands immediately after removal. Be sure to also examine pets and gear, as ticks can ride into the home on animals, coats, backpacks and blankets, etc.
Symptoms of tick-borne disease can include any unusual rash and unexplained flu-like symptoms, including fever, severe headaches, body aches, and dizziness. Prompt treatment with antibiotics can prevent serious illness or even death.See your doctor immediately if you have been bitten by a tick and experience any of these symptoms.
Rabies is a disease that can be transmitted from mammals to people and infects the brain and central nervous system. The rabies virus is normally transmitted through contact with the saliva or brain/nervous system tissue of an infected animal, and bites are the most common modes of transmission. Rabies in humans is 100 percent preventable with prompt medical care, so it is important to seek medical attention after a possible exposure. Otherwise, rabies is nearly always fatal in people once clinical signs appear.
The signs of animal rabies include changes in behavior, general sickness, problems swallowing, increased saliva, wild animals appearing abnormally tame or sick, animals that bite at everything if excited, difficulty moving, paralysis and death.
All species of mammals are susceptible to rabies infection, but the wild animals most often implicated in carrying rabies in the U.S. are skunks, raccoons, bats and foxes. Skunks and bats are the most common wildlife carriers in Kansas. Cattle, dogs, cats and ferrets can also carry rabies, so taking care to vaccinate and control pets is important.
Public health and animal health officials collaborate to educate the public and prevent the disease in people and animals. In Kansas, K.A.R. 28-1-13 and K.A.R. 28-1-14 regulate rabies control, isolation of suspect animals, and possession of certain kinds of wildlife. For the state of Kansas, the Kansas State University Rabies Laboratory conducts animal rabies testing. Confirmed cases are reported to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) which conducts a follow-up investigation for each case.
Swimming at a beach is much different than swimming in a pool because the water may be murky and harbor floating or submerged debris, the bottom may be uneven and there may be wind and waves. Follow these safety measures for a safe, enjoyable visit:
- Stay within the designated swim area.
- Boats are not allowed in the swim area or past the “No Boat” buoys posted beyond the swimming beaches at most parks
- State park beaches do not have lifeguards, and swimmers enter the water at their own risk
- Wear foot protection, such as water shoes, to avoid injuries from unseen hazards in the sand or lake bottom
- By regulation, possession of liquor or beer (cereal malt beverage) is prohibited at designated state park swim beaches, and no containers other than shatterproof containers shall be possessed
- By posted notice, all state park designated swimming beaches close at 9:00 p.m., and pets are prohibited from the beaches
- Never swim alone, at night, or under the influence of alcohol or other drugs
- Be alert to changes in the lake bottom to avoid loss of footing. Beaches are subject to wave action and erosion.
- Young children and inexperienced swimmers should wear U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets in and around the water.
- Pay attention to children, elderly persons and individuals with known medical conditions.
- Do not dive into the water from any structure or floating device.
- Be alert to weather conditions
- Heed “Harmful Algae Bloom” Advisory and Warning signs. Harmful algae blooms are unpredictable. They can develop rapidly and may float around the lake, requiring visitors to exercise their best judgment. If there is scum, a paint-like surface, or the water is bright green, avoid contact and keep pets away. These are indications that a harmful bloom may be present.
Paddling down a river or across a lake is an enjoyable and safe activity, gaining popularity. But according to statistics, paddlers in small crafts such as canoes, kayaks and rafts are more than twice as likely to drown as individuals operating other types of vessels.
The higher rate of fatalities can be attributed to two factors:
- Some paddlers don’t consider themselves “boaters” and may not follow the same safe practices as other small vessel operators.
- Some paddlers need to develop their skills or knowledge to operate their small, unstable craft safely. They may be unaware of hazards unique to paddlesports, such as fast currents and low-head dams, or don’t follow proper safety procedures when encountering them.
Prepare by doing the following:
- Always wear a properly fitting PFD and know how to swim in a river current.
- Never paddle alone. Bring along at least one other boater. When canoeing, two canoes with two canoeists each are recommended. Three crafts with two paddlers each are even better. If unfamiliar with the waterway, paddle with someone knowledgeable.
- Never overload the craft. Tie down gear and distribute weight evenly.
- Maintain a low center of gravity and three points of contact. Keep your weight balanced over the center of the craft. Standing up or moving around in a small craft can cause it to capsize –a leading cause of fatalities among paddlers. Leaning a shoulder over the edge of the craft can also destabilize it enough to capsize.
- Stay alert at all times and be aware of your surroundings, including nearby powerboats. Be prepared to react when dangerous situations arise.
- Practice re-boarding your craft in the water with the help of a companion.
- Dress properly for the weather and type of boating.
- Check your craft for leaks.
- Map a general route and timetable when embarking on a long trip. Arrange for your vehicles to be shuttled to the takeout.
- Know the weather conditions before you head out. While paddling, watch the weather and stay close to shore. Head for shore if the waves increase.
Paddleboarding is an activity that started in the 1940’s in Hawaii, but recently has exploded in popularity across the country as an outdoor recreation activity. It's a great way to connect with nature, an excellent form of exercise. However, due to the popularity of paddleboarding and the unfamiliarity of the waterways for many of the users, education is becoming a necessity in order to enjoy this activity safely.
In the State of Kansas paddle boards are considered a vessel and therefore are subject to the same laws and regulations as other paddle craft. As such, paddleboarders need to carry a USCG approved, properly fitting life jacket and if you're 12 and younger you must be wearing your life jacket. Inflatable life jackets are only approved for persons 16 years of age and older. Paddle boards must also not operate inside a designated swim area or in any area restricted to boats marked by buoys. If you plan to be out on your SUP between sunset and sunrise you must also carry a flashlight or lantern with you.
The Coast Guard definition of a paddle board allows them to be operated in a swimming area without wearing a life jacket, but Kansas has specific definitions of a vessel and an SUP falls into the same category as a canoe or kayak. Kansas has not adopted the Coast Guard definition and therefore their carriage requirements for equipment and operation restrictions do not apply. If you have any questions please call the KDWPT Boating Education Section at 620-672-0770.
The Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism (KDWPT), the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) and Safe Kids Kansas encourage outdoor enthusiasts to be prepared and follow these tips for a safe and enjoyable boating experience.
- Wear a life jacket. Boating accidents can happen without warning, leaving no time to locate and put on a life jacket. Always have children wear a life jacket while on boats, around open bodies of water or when participating in water sports. Kansas law requires that all boats have one U.S. Coast Guard-approved, readily-accessible personal flotation device (PFD) for each person on board. Children age 12 or younger are required to wear a life jacket at all times when on board a boat, and KDWPT strongly recommends that adults do the same.
- Designate a “Water Watcher.”Regardless of a swimmer’s age or skill level, it’s smart for a responsible adult to keep watch when anyone is in the water. If there are several swimmers, designate a Water Watcher for a certain amount of time (such as 15-minute periods) to prevent lapses in supervision. Download a Water Watcher card here.
- Learn CPR.Learn adult, infant and child CPR. Many local hospitals, fire departments, Red Cross offices, and recreation departments offer training at little to no cost. It will give you tremendous peace of mind, not only around the water, but also in everyday life.
- Learn how to safely help someone in distress.All too often, the victim of a drowning has succumbed while trying to rescue someone else. Hurriedly jumping into the water without wearing a life jacket is a recipe for disaster. Instead, try to follow these steps in succession: a) reach out to the victim with a long pole, b) throw a rope or preferably a life ring, or c) row out to the victim. As a last resort – and after donning a life jacket – you could try to enter the water while carrying a spare life jacket or ring with you. Never jump into the water to rescue someone if you’re not wearing a life jacket yourself.
- Adhere to a “no drinking” policy while boating.Boating under the influence is just as deadly as drinking and driving. Penalties can include large fines, suspension or revocation of boat operator privileges, and jail terms. To be safe, only consume alcohol when on land, and never before operating your boat.
- Allow only those who have completed boater education to operate the vessel.In Kansas, anyone age 12-20 must have completed an approved boater education course before operating a vessel without the direct supervision of an adult. Approved adults include anyone age 18 or older who has completed the course or any adult age 21 or older. No one younger than 12 years of age may operate a vessel without supervision, regardless of a boater education certification.
- Know the rules of the water.Many people are unaware that there are operating rules for boats on the water, which include being able to recognize buoy markers and the proper use of navigation lights. Knowledge of these rules can prevent dangerous, and even deadly, situations.
- Educate yourself and your children about swimming safely.Teach children how to tread water, float and stay by the shore. Make sure kids swim only in areas designated for swimming. Swimming in open bodies of water is not the same as swimming in a pool. Be aware of uneven surfaces, underwater trees and rocks, currents (yes, there are currents in Kansas reservoirs) and changing weather.
- Keep warm.A dip in the lake may be tempting on a hot day, but remember that the water temperature may be too cold for prolonged swims – particularly in the spring and fall. Children are at a higher risk for hypothermia, so keep them out of the water or only allow short swims when the water is cold. If a swimmer seems cold or is shivering, get them out of the water immediately, and wrap them tightly in a dry blanket or towel.
- Make sure your boat has all the required equipment and is thoroughly tested before hitting the water.Safely operating a boat – like safely operating a motor vehicle – requires attention to the vessel’s worthiness to be on the water.
For more information about child safety topics, including boating and water safety, visit the Safe Kids Kansas website at www.safekidskansas.org.