From the Harford County Health Department:
If the first week of summer, 2010 is any indication, Harford County residents should prepare for a few months of soaring temperatures and humidity, giving rise to concerns about heat-related illness. With steadily climbing temperatures and a rising heat index, Health Officer Susan Kelly reminds individuals of all ages to be cautious when vigorously working or playing outdoors or during prolonged exposure to hot and humid weather conditions.
Ms. Kelly states, “Prolonged heat exposure can result in recreational as well as occupational illnesses and injuries. Persons who work or recreate outside in direct exposure to the sun, or indoors in excessive heat for any extended period of time must be particularly mindful of the risks and be exceptionally careful.” She also encourages everyone to remember to pay attention to family members, co-workers, friends, and neighbors. “Make sure they are taking the 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.
Basic strategies are key to preventing heat illness and are focused on limiting exposure to excessive heat, limiting activity, 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 substantially 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. However, salt pills should not be used without first consulting a doctor.
Lifestyle factors that also can increase risk include extremely hot living accommodations, lack of transportation, overdressing, 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.
Several cooling centers are accessible at locations throughout Harford County. The collaborative decision by the County’s Emergency Operations Center and the County Health Officer to open these centers is based on National Weather Service heat index information. In the event of these openings, communities are provided timely notification by means of public service announcements on radio, television and in print media.
For more information on heat-related illness, visit the National Centers for Disease Control website at www.cdc.gov or call the Harford County Health Department at 410-612-1781. 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 go to http://www.niapublications.org/agepages/hyperther.asp or www.niapublications.org/agepages/hyperther-sp.asp for the Spanish-language version.
Governor O’Malley urges caution to Maryland residents as heat wave claims first victims of the year
The recent heat wave has contributed to the first 2010 heat-related deaths in Maryland, the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DHMH) has announced. Two senior (65 and over) Baltimore County residents and a senior Montgomery County resident died this week from hyperthermia. All had underlying conditions.
“These deaths remind us how important it is to take precautions against harsh weather conditions such as the heat wave we are currently experiencing in our state,” said Governor Martin O’Malley. “We need to be mindful of our families, friends and neighbors and take the time to check on those who may need extra assistance.”
DHMH cautions Maryland citizens that heatstroke and heat exhaustion can develop from the hot and humid conditions typically associated with Maryland summers.
“Everyone should be careful in hot weather, especially elderly people, young children, and those who are overweight,” said DHMH Secretary John M. Colmers. “While chronic health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and respiratory illnesses increase an individual’s risk, there are things people can do to protect themselves.”
Heatstroke is a serious illness characterized by a body temperature greater then 105 degrees. Symptoms may include dry red skin, convulsions, disorientation, delirium and coma. Onset of heatstroke can be rapid: a person can go from feeling apparently well to a seriously ill condition within minutes. Treatment of heatstroke involves the rapid lowering of body temperature, using a cool bath or wet towels. A heatstroke victim should be kept in a cool area; emergency medical care should be obtained by dialing 911.
Heat exhaustion is a milder form of heatstroke that may develop due to a combination of several days with high temperatures and dehydration in an individual. Signs of heat exhaustion include extreme weakness, muscle cramps, nausea, or headache. Victims may also vomit or faint. Heat exhaustion is treated with plenty of liquids and rest in a cool, shaded area. Those on a low-sodium diet or with other health problems should contact a doctor.
Hot weather tips:
? Drink plenty of fluids such as water and fruit juices to prevent dehydration — be aware that alcohol can impair the body’s sweat mechanism, as can fairly common medications such as antihistamines and diuretics;
? Wear loose-fitting, lightweight, and light-colored clothes;
? Avoid direct sunlight by staying in the shade or by wearing sunscreen, a hat and sunglasses;
? When possible, stay in air-conditioned areas. If your home is not air-conditioned, consider a visit to a shopping mall or public library. Contact your local health department to see if there are any heat shelters in your area;
? NEVER leave pets or young children in a car, even with the windows cracked;
? Check on elderly relatives or neighbors at least daily; and
? Take it easy when outdoors. Athletes and those who work outdoors should, if possible, take short breaks when feeling fatigued. Schedule physical activity during the morning or evening when it is cooler.
In 2009, six heat related deaths were reported; 2008 – 17 and in 2007 – 21.
To learn more about preventing heat related illness, visit: http://fha.maryland.gov/ohpetup/eip_heatillness.cfm or www.mema.state.md.us and click on “Other Natural Disasters.”