Weather Safety Week highlights heat safety

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Missouri Summer Weather Safety Week is June 24 through June 30, and the National Weather Service is reminding area residents to keep cool if a triple-digit heat wave hits.

"Last year, there were 47 heat-related deaths in Missouri," said David Compton, director of the Barry County Office of Emergency Management. "That was up from 17 in 2010."

According to the National Weather Service, a heat wave is a silent killer, impacting the state's most vulnerable populations: the elderly, the very young and those with chronic illnesses.

"The elderly typically have a diminished capability to perspire," Compton said. "Perspiration provides evaporation, which is a cooling function of the body. When a person is not able to perspire, that heat stays inside the body.

"Children, on the other hand, are susceptible to heat-related illness when they haven't been drinking enough fluids," Compton said. "They tend to be more active in the summer and forget to hydrate regularly."

Temperatures in cities are typically two- to five- degrees higher than in rural areas, an event called the "heat island effect," due to the concentration of buildings and asphalt that absorb heat during the day.

"When temperatures rise to extreme levels for more than two days, we see people start to suffer from heat-related illness," Compton said. "Heat stress on the body accumulates over time. Even a few days or a week of extreme heat can have an adverse impact on public health."

Some of those complaints can be heat cramps, heat exhaustion or heat stroke.

Heat stroke qualifies as a severe medical emergency. Symptoms of heat stroke include a temperature of 103 degrees or higher, no sweating, a rapid pulse, hot, red, dry skin, nausea, dizziness, headache and confusion.

"If someone is exhibiting signs of heat stroke, summon help immediately," Compton said. "It is imperative to get the victim to a hospital for treatment. While waiting for emergency responders to arrive, the victim should be moved to a cooler area and sponged down to reduce body temperature."

Symptoms of heat exhaustion include heavy sweating, cool skin, a fast, weak pulse, fast and shallow breathing, fainting, dizziness, vomiting and nausea.

Treatment for the victim includes getting the person to a cool place, to lie down and loosening clothing. Apply cool, moist cloths and allow the individual to have sips of cool water.

Heat cramps, while painful, are typically the easiest, least dangerous of the heat-related illnesses. Symptoms include painful spasms in the leg muscles, and abdomen and heavy sweating. Treatment includes lightly stretching or massaging the muscle to relieve the spasm and taking cool sips of water.

When temperatures reach the high 90s or move into triple digits, extra care should be taken to avoid heat illness.

"Drink plenty of fluids and natural fruit juices," Compton said. "Avoid alcoholic beverages and drinks with caffeine, including coffee, tea and sodas. Wear loose-fitting, light-weight clothing and avoid going out in the hottest part of the day."

Other hints include:

* Outside workers should use a buddy system to ensure signs of heat illness don't go unnoticed.

* Keep window shades drawn during the day to prevent excessive heat from building up inside a home.

* Set a fan to blow hot air out of a window during the day and blow cooler air into the house at night. Fans should never be used in unventilated rooms; they just circulate hot air and create an oven effect.

* Take cool, (not cold), baths or showers.

* Eat small meals. Avoid high protein foods, which will increase body heat. Increase consumption of vegetables, salads and fruits.

"In addition, it is very important that people not leave children or pets inside an enclosed vehicle," Compton said. "Temperatures inside a car can reach over 140 degrees relatively quickly, typically within the first 30 minutes."

Compton said people with children or those that travel with pets should make a habit of looking at their back seat every time they exit the vehicle to make sure they are not forgetting a quiet baby or a family pet.

Outside pets should be given plenty of fresh water throughout the day as well as access to a cool environment.

"By taking a few precautionary measures, area residents can reduce the possibility of suffering heat-related illness or death," Compton said.

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