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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

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Health Tips for the Peak of Summer

Author: Tim Davis, M.D., Chief Medical Officer, National Disaster Medical System, HHS Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response
Published Date: 7/14/2015 11:18:00 AM
Category: Public Health Preparedness;

In my 25 years as an emergency medicine physician, I’ve seen the catastrophic effect heat can have on health, including hospitalization and even death. While infants, the elderly, people with chronic medical conditions and workers in outdoor professions are at greater risk, extreme heat can impact anyone.

In Washington, D.C. where I work, the hottest period may be just days away – from July 11-15, according to 30-year averages calculated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Climatic Data Center. The hottest time of the year actually varies across the country, from June in parts of the Southwest to September along the Pacific Coast.

Regardless of when summer’s heat peaks in your area, you can help keep people out of the emergency department by watching for signs of heat stress in yourself, your family, and others around you, and if you see someone exhibiting the signs, help them get the medical attention they need. Being ready to help in all sorts of extreme weather events also improves your community’s resiliency and the nation’s health security overall. You could even save a life.

People suffering from heat stress may experience heavy sweating; weakness; cold, pale, and clammy skin; fast, weak pulse; and nausea or vomiting. Early signs include muscle cramps, heat rash, fainting or near-fainting spells, and a pulse or heart rate greater than 100. If you believe someone is suffering from heat stress, they need to move to a cooler location and lie down; apply cool, wet cloths to the body; and sip water. They should remain in the cool location until recovered and their pulse heart rate is well under 100.

Signs that someone might be suffering from the most severe heat-related illness, heat stroke, include a body temperature above 103 degrees Fahrenheit; hot, red, dry or moist skin; rapid and strong pulse; and “altered mental status” that can range from confusion and agitation to possible unconsciousness. If you see someone exhibiting these signs, call 911 immediately; help the person move to a cooler environment; reduce the person’s body temperature with cool cloths soaked in ice water especially to head, neck, arm pits and upper legs near the groin area where combined 70 percent of body heat can be lost, or even a cool bath if you can stay with them to ensure they do not drown; and do not give them fluids.

Children are especially vulnerable to heat illnesses, and can’t always tell us what is wrong. When it’s hot outside, consider any change in a child’s behavior as heat stress.

To help prevent heat-related illness:

  • Spend time in locations with air-conditioning.
  • Drink plenty of fluids. Good choices are water and diluted sport electrolyte drinks (1 part sport drink to 2 parts water) unless told otherwise by your doctor.
  • Choose lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing
  • Limit outdoor activity to morning and evening hours

As people crank up air conditioning in the peak time of summer, electrical grids can become overwhelmed, causing power outages. In power outages, people who rely on electricity-dependent medical devices, like oxygen concentrators and electric wheelchairs, may need assistance so check on your neighbors!

Community organizations and businesses can help local emergency managers and health departments plan for the community’s health needs amid the summer heat – and other emergency situations that can cause power outages – using the new the HHS emPOWER Map, launched by HHS’ Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response. The HHS emPOWER Map provides the monthly total number of Medicare beneficiaries’ claims for electricity-dependent equipment at the national, state, territory, county, and zip code levels.

Heat related illnesses are dangerous – but they are also preventable. Take some time to learn more about ways to beat the heat so that you, your family, and your community can have a safer, healthier summer.

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