From the Harford County Health Department:
As summer officially begins, the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene announced the first heat-related death of 2014 in Harford County. The report also indicated that 129 Marylanders have succumbed to heat illnesses over the past four summers.
Harford County Health Officer Susan Kelly comments on the seriousness of this phenomenon and advises residents to prepare for steadily climbing temperatures and a rising heat index over the months ahead. “Individuals of all ages need to be cautious when vigorously working or playing outdoors, since prolonged exposure to hot and humid weather conditions can result in potentially life-threatening heat-related illnesses and injuries. Persons who are exposed to excessive heat for any extended period of time, whether indoors or out-of-doors, must know risks and be exceptionally careful.” She also encourages everyone to remember to pay attention to family members, co-workers, friends, neighbors, and even pets. “Make sure to take necessary precautions, especially if they are young, elderly, or ill.”
Heat illness takes many forms, including heat fatigue, heat syncope (sudden dizziness after exercising in the heat), heat cramps, heat exhaustion or the most serious, heat stroke. Heat stroke, is an advanced form of heat stress that occurs when the body is overwhelmed by heat and unable to control its temperature. Someone with a body temperature above 104 degrees is likely suffering from heat stroke and may have symptoms of confusion, combativeness, strong rapid pulse, lack of sweating, dry flushed skin, faintness, staggering, possible delirium or coma. Seek immediate medical attention for a person with any of these symptoms, especially an older adult.
The Health Department reminds the public that basic strategies are key to preventing heat illness and are focused on limiting exposure to excessive heat, limiting activity, dressing accordingly in lighter weight clothing, and staying hydrated by drinking more non-caffeinated, non-alcoholic fluids than usual.
The risk for heat illness is a combination of the outside temperature along with the general health and lifestyle of the individual. Health-related factors that may increase risk include:
• The inability to perspire, caused by medications such as diuretics, sedatives, tranquilizers and certain heart and blood pressure drugs.
• Taking several drugs for various conditions. It is important, however, to continue to take prescribed medication and discuss possible problems with a physician.
• Being considerably overweight or underweight
• Drinking alcoholic beverages
• Being dehydrated
• Age-related changes to the skin such as poor blood circulation and inefficient sweat glands
• Heart, lung and kidney diseases, as well as any illness that causes general weakness or fever
• High blood pressure or other conditions that require changes in diet. For example, people on salt-restricted diets may be at an increased risk. Salt pills should not be used without first consulting a doctor.
Lifestyle factors that also can increase risk include extremely hot living accommodations without cooling and/or adequate ventilation, lack of transportation, visiting overcrowded places and not understanding how to respond to changing weather conditions. Individuals at special risk should stay indoors on particularly hot and humid days, especially when there is an air pollution alert in effect. People without fans or air conditioners should go to places such as shopping malls, movie theaters, libraries or cooling centers.
For more information on heat-related illness, visit the Harford County Health Department website at www.harfordcountyhealth.com or call 410-612-1781or the National Centers for Disease Control website at www.cdc.gov. For weekly reports that provide guidance and information about heat-related deaths and illness, visit www.dhmh.maryland.gov/extremeheat. The site also includes the State Heat Plan, facts about heat-related illnesses, contact information about cooling centers around the state and hot weather tips. Also For a free copy of the NIA’s Age Page on hyperthermia in English or in Spanish, contact the NIA Information Center at 1-800-222-2225 or visit their website at: www.niapublications.org/agepages/hyperther.asp or www.niapublications.org/agepages/hyperther-sp.asp for the Spanish-language version.