“We haven’t had any heat-related medical calls so far that I know of, but usually now through October there is the possibility of heat-related illnesses,” Assistant Fire Chief Mike Burdette said.
The Alabama Department of Public Health and American Red Cross both issued press releases urging residents to take proper precautions when exposed to high temperatures.
“If you don’t have to be outside, stay indoors,” Burdette said. “Stay hydrated, preferably with water—no alcohol or caffeine. And always be sure to check on the elderly and kids because heat seems to affect them more rapidly. If you are without air-conditioning, find a public building such as city hall or the civic center that has air-conditioning.”
According to the National Weather Service, excessive heat is the number one weather-related killer in the United States, resulting in hundreds of fatalities each year. A heat wave is a prolonged period of excessive heat, often combined with excessive humidity. Generally temperatures are about 10 degrees higher than normal on average, which can be very dangerous.
According to the Alabama Department of Public Health, heat-related illnesses occur when the body’s temperature control system is overloaded.
Heat stroke, sometimes called sunstroke, is the most serious heat-related illness. It occurs when the body becomes unable to control its temperature. The body’s temperature rises rapidly, the sweating mechanism fails and the body is unable to cool down. Body temperature may rise to 106 degrees or higher within 10 to 15 minutes. Heat stroke can cause death or permanent disability if emergency treatment is not provided.
Health department officials advise people to drink plenty of water, stay in an air-conditioned room and keep out of the sun. Also be sure to check on the elderly and ensure pets have plenty of water to drink and shade to cool off in.
According to the ADPH, warning signs of heat stroke vary, but include the following:
• An extremely high body temperature (above 103 degrees).
• Red, hot and dry skin (no sweating).
• Rapid, strong pulse.
• Throbbing headache.
ADPH first aid recommendations are to get the person to a shady area, cool rapidly in a tub of cool water, place in a cool shower, spray with cool water from a garden hose, splash with cool water, or, if the humidity is low, place in a cool, wet sheet and fan vigorously. Monitor body temperature and continue cooling efforts until the person’s body temperature drops to 101 to 102 degree. If emergency personnel are delayed, call a hospital emergency room for further instructions.
“Heat stroke is a life-threatening emergency,” said Dr. Donald Williamson, state health officer. “A person with heat stroke is likely to be unconscious or unresponsive, so he or she cannot safely consume any liquids. Under no circumstances should you give any alcohol to a person with heat stroke or any heat illness.”
The ADPH offers preventative measures to avoid heat illnesses:
• Drink more fluids and avoid beverages containing alcohol or caffeine.
• When temperatures are extreme, stay indoors, ideally in an air-conditioned place.
• Take a cool shower or bath and reduce or eliminate strenuous activities during the hottest times of the day.
• Protect yourself from the sun with a wide-brimmed hat, light-colored loose-fitting clothing and use of a sunscreen of SPF 15 or higher.
• Never leave pets or people in a parked vehicle.
Individuals with heart problems, poor circulation, diabetes, a previous stroke or obesity are at greater risk of becoming sick in hot weather. The risk of heat-related illness may increase among people using medications for high blood pressure, nervousness or depression.
The American Red Cross offers Heat Safety Tips:
• Dress for the heat. Wear lightweight, light-colored clothing. Light colors will reflect away some of the sun’s energy. It is also a good idea to wear hats or to use an umbrella.
• Drink water. Carry water or juice with you and drink continuously even if you do not feel thirsty. Avoid alcohol and caffeine, which dehydrate the body. Avoid using salt tablets unless directed to do so by a physician.
• Eat small meals and eat more often. Avoid high-protein foods, which increase metabolic heat.
• Slow down. Avoid strenuous activity. If you must do strenuous activity, do it during the coolest part of the day, which is usually in the morning between 4 and 7 a.m.
• Stay indoors when possible. If air-conditioning is not available, stay on the lowest floor out of the sunshine. Air-conditioned public facilities such as libraries and shopping malls can also offer relief from the heat of the day. Remember that electric fans do not cool, they simply circulate the air.
• Be a good neighbor. During heat waves, check in on elderly residents in your neighborhood and those who do not have air-conditioning.
• Learn Red Cross first aid and CPR. While the above tips can help prevent emergencies, it is crucial to know what to do if an emergency situation arises.
Heat illnesses can lead to death. According to the Alabama Center for Health Statistics, the total numbers of heat-related deaths in Alabama in recent years are 8 deaths in 2011, 9 deaths in 2010, 3 deaths in 2009, 8 deaths in 2008 and 13 deaths in 2007. In the heat wave of 1980, there were 125 heat-related deaths recorded in the state.
For more information, visit www.adph.org/injuryprevention or www.redcross.org.
Contact Elsie Hodnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.