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Paramedic's Corner: Excessive heat is another underrated problem
Paramedic's Corner: Excessive heat is another underrated problem

Ambulance Director Gary Carmack
This is a continuation of the summer campaign being conducted by the State Emergency Management Agency, National Weather Service and Local Emergency Management Committee from June 21 to 27.

The following is from the National Weather Service and the Centers for Disease Control:

Many people do not realize how deadly a heat wave can be. In contrast to the visible, destructive, and violent nature of floods, hurricanes, and tornadoes, a heat wave is a "silent killer." In 1995 alone, 1,021 Americans perished in heat waves, including 633 in Illinois and 57 in Missouri.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) staff reports that for the period from 1979 to 2003, excessive heat exposure caused 8,015 deaths in the United States. That corresponds to an average of 276 deaths a year from excessive heat. During this period, more people in this country died from extreme heat than from hurricanes, lightning, tornadoes, floods, and earthquakes combined.

In 2001, 300 deaths were caused by excessive heat exposure. Currently CDC personnel estimate that 400 people a year die from exposure to excessive heat.

What is a Heat Wave?

A heat wave is a period of excessive heat lasting two days or more that leads to illnesses and other stresses on people with prolonged exposure to these conditions. High humidity, which often accompanies heat in Missouri, can make the effects of heat even more harmful. While heat related illness and death can occur due to exposure to intense heat in just one afternoon, heat stress on the body has a cumulative effect. Consequently, persistence of a heat wave increases the threat to public health.

Who is Most Vulnerable During a Heat Wave?

The elderly population segment is the most vulnerable to the dangers of heat. Of the 522 deaths that occurred in Chicago during the 1995 heat wave from July 12 to 16, 371 (73 percent) were of people 65 or older. The elderly suffer due to the diminished ability to perspire. Since the function of perspiration is to provide evaporation, which in turn provides cooling, the elderly have a reduced capacity to release heat from the body.

In addition to the elderly, infants, young children, and people with chronic health problems (especially pre-existing heart disease) or disabilities are more vulnerable to the effects of heat waves. People who are not acclimated to hot weather, overexert themselves, are obese, or use alcohol or drugs (including drugs such as antipsychotics, tranquilizers, antidepressants, certain types of sleeping pills, and drugs for Parkinson's disease) are at great risk.

Common Heat Related Disorders

Heat Disorder
First Aid
Heat Cramps
Painful spasms usually in muscles of legs and abdomen due to heavy exertion. Heavy sweating.
Stop activity and rest in a cool place. Lightly stretch or gently massage muscle to relieve spasms. Give sips of cool water.
Heat Exhaustion
Heavy sweating. Skin cool, pale, and clammy. Pulse fast and weak. Breathing fast and shallow. Fainting, dizziness, vomiting, and nausea.
Get victim to a cool place. Have him/her lie down and loosen clothing. Apply cool, moist cloths. Give sips of cool water.
Heat Stroke
Temperature 103 or higher.
No sweating, rapid pulse, fast and shallow breathing. Hot, red, dry skin. Nausea, dizziness, headache, confusion.
Heat stroke is a severe medical emergency. Summon emergency assistance immediately! Delay can be fatal. Move the victim to a cooler environment. Use cool baths or sponging to reduce body temperature.

Excessive Heat Safety

• Drink plenty of water and natural fruit juices, even if you're not thirsty. Avoid alcoholic beverages and drinks with caffeine, such as coffee, tea, and colas.

• Wear loose-fitting, lightweight, light-colored clothing. If you must go out, use sunscreen and wear a wide-brimmed hat. Remember that sunburn reduces the skin's ability to provide cooling.

• Avoid going out during the hottest times of the day. Take frequent breaks if working during the heat of the day.

• Using a buddy system between co-workers in high heat-stress jobs can help ensure that signs of heat stress do not go unnoticed.

• Inside during the day, keep shades drawn and blinds closed. Use air conditioning whenever available. Even just two hours per day in air conditioning can significantly reduce the risk of heat-related illness.

• Fans should only be used in a ventilated room. Blow hot air out a window with a fan during the day, and blow in cooler air at night.

• Take cool (not icy cold) baths or showers. Eat frequent, small meals. Avoid high protein foods, which increase metabolic heat. Fruits, vegetables, and salads constitute low protein meals.

• Do not leave children or pets in a closed vehicle with the windows up. Temperatures inside a closed vehicle can reach over 140 degrees within minutes.

• Provide extra water and access to a cool environment for pets.

• Listen to NOAA Weather Radio or media sources to keep up with the latest heat watches, warnings, and advisories.

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