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June 20th, 2017

Enjoying summer music festivals safely

By Ryan Hatoum

With music festivals surging in popularity – it seems a new one pops up every week – it's high time to talk about health and safety at these events.

From Coachella to Bonnaroo to EDC (Electric Daisy Carnival), festival-goers need to stay alert and stay healthy so they can better enjoy themselves.

"While rock and roll may never die, the reality is that festival attendees sometimes do," says Dr. Mark Morocco, clinical professor of emergency medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. While fatalities are rare, much more common are heat-related illnesses, infections and risky behavior.

Pack materials for unsanitary environments

"Eye covering, eye wash and basic dust masks should be in your basic supplies if you're heading to a venue that's dry or dirty," says Morocco. Dust and dirt proliferate at many festivals – especially those in desert locations such as Burning Man in Nevada and Coachella in Southern California.

When it comes to using the restroom, you'll want to safely use the portable toilets instead of other, less sanitary options. Despite their stigma, Morocco says portable toilets keep crowds safer than the alternative of not having them.

"After using a portable facility, wash your hands or use a hand sanitizer," he says. "You may want to purchase paper toilet seat covers and keep them handy, too."

Avoid drugs and questionable substances

While it's hard to "just say no" when in a party environment, festival-goers also need to be cautious about drug and alcohol use.

Morocco advises people to never take, eat or drink any substance they receive from a stranger or from a source other than an approved vendor or in a sealed bottled.

"On top of the fact that party drugs are dangerous and can make you sick – especially when mixed with the heat, the sun, and dehydration – being in a crowd of thousands means that if you do need medical help, evacuating you to a hospital is difficult," says Morocco. "Delays can be deadly."

Know the dangers of sexual activity

Festival environments make sexual activity more dangerous for a number of reasons. The mix of drugs, alcohol, human nature and a care-free atmosphere can lead to risky sexual activity.

People should refrain from unprotected sex, sex with strangers or sex under the influence of substances that make consent and safety difficult, according to Morocco. It also a good idea to avoid kissing because it can lessen your chances of getting colds, flus, cold sores and other problems magnified by the dry conditions that make your nose and mouth more susceptible to infection.

"Upper respiratory and sinus symptoms that many festival-goers report are probably more from kissing and touching than dust," says Morocco. "A good dust barrier or fashionable kerchief over your mouth might protect you in more than one way."

Hydrate and apply sunscreen on schedule

Morocco suggests festival-goers make a mental connection between water and sunscreen – two substances they'll need every couple of hours.

"Try to drink enough plain water so that you urinate every two to three hours – no more, no less," he says. "Every time you hydrate, reapply a 30+ SPF sunscreen in an ample quantity," using about as much lotion for your entire body as would fit into a container the size of a golf ball.

Attendees should also familiarize themselves with the signs of heat illness, which can include confusion, dizziness, nausea, failure to sweat or being hot to the touch.

"At the end of the day, festivals are a place to have fun and enjoy the music," says Morocco. "Make sure to do so, but don't put yourself in danger."

Tags: alcohol, alcohol consumption, concert, concerts, dehydration, Dr. Mark Morocco, drugs, emergencies, emergency, emergency medicine, hydration, hygiene, illicit drugs, music, music festivals, News & Insights, sex, Sexual behavior, sexual health, sunscreen

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