As heat indexes continue to soar, the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) urges Missouri residents to take extra precautions to prevent heat-related illness.
"Each year, we warn Missourians to protect themselves from heat-related illness, especially the very young, senior adults and anyone with health conditions that put them at risk," said Jane Drummond, DHSS director. "But when the heat index rises to such extreme levels, we worry about everyone, especially people who have to spend extended time out in the heat. With construction projects booming and sports teams beginning their late summer practices, we really get concerned about people getting too hot."
Last year, heat-related illnesses claimed the lives of 25 Missouri residents, including one child and 14 seniors. Over the last seven years, over 160 Missourians have died due to heat-related illnesses.
Air conditioning is the best way to prevent heat-related illnesses during prolonged periods of high temperatures. Air conditioning usage has caused electricity demands to rise to an all-time high this year, said Bill Shiveley, Barry Electric Cooperative chief executive officer and general manager.
"As of Monday, the demand was at an all-time high," said Shiveley. "We were at 47,918 kilowatts and prior to that, our all-time high was around 47,749 kilowatts."
Shiveley said Barry Electric is looking at purchasing around 23 million kilowatt hours of electricity this month, which will also be an all-time high for the local cooperative.
Although Barry Electric has not experienced any heat-related outages this year, when unrelated outages occur it causes a large inconvenience for people attempting to remain cool inside their homes. Barry Electric linemen work diligently to re-establish services when outages occur.
"We encourage people without air conditioning to visit public libraries, senior centers, public buildings or area businesses during periods of extreme heat," said David Compton, Barry County Emergency Management director. "We also encourage family members to check on individuals in the heat. Especially those at high risk like children and elderly individuals."
People are encouraged to use Missouri's toll-free abuse and neglect hotline to report any elderly or adults with disabilities who are suffering from the heat and need assistance. The toll-free number is 1-800-392-0210.
The Office of Emergency Management and Barry County Health Department continually monitor heat conditions during summer months, said Compton.
"We haven't seen any significant heat-related injuries this year, but we encourage individuals to seek emergency help if they feel ill due to the heat," said Compton. "Heat-related injuries should be taken seriously. They can kill you in very little time. Individuals who must be outdoors should limit their activity. If possible, stay inside and take this time to read a book."
Heat-related illnesses occur when the body's temperature-control system is overloaded. The body normally cools itself by sweating. During times of extreme heat, when the humidity is high, sweat does not evaporate as quickly, which prevents the body from releasing heat.
DHSS and the American Red Cross have released the following tips to prevent heat-related illness:
Be aware of the warning signs, which include light-headedness, mild nausea, confusion, sleepiness and profuse sweating.
Increase fluid intake by drinking non-alcoholic and caffeine-free liquids like water or juice. Consume more fluids than thirst indicates.
Wear light-weight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing.
When working in a hot environment, rest frequently.
Do not rely on fans as a primary cooling source. Fans can actually overheat the body when no cool-air source is available.
?Schedule outdoor activities before noon or in the late evening.
?Never leave infants, children or pets unattended in a parked car or other hot environment. A car's interior can rise above 140 degrees within only a few minutes.
?Eat small meals and eat more often. Avoid foods that are high in protein, which increase metabolic heat.
In the event of a heat emergency, move the person to a cooler place and give them a half a glass of cool water every 15 minutes. Also, remove or loosen tight clothing and apply cool, wet cloths to help cool the body.
Heat stroke, also known as sunstroke, is a life threatening condition. During a heat stroke the person's temperature control system stops working completely, which can allow the body temperature to rise so high that brain damage and death occurs.
Symptoms of heat stroke include: hot, red and dry skin; changes in consciousness; rapid, weak pulse; and rapid, shallow breathing. Persons suffering from heat stroke must seek emergency assistance immediately.
The person should also be moved to a cooler place where the body temperature can be decreased quickly. Place ice packs, cold packs or wet sheets on the person's wrists and ankles, under the arms and on the neck to cool the large blood vessels of the body.