Following the heat advisory issued for Washington, D.C., and eastern portions of Maryland and Virginia by the National Weather Service, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) reminds local residents about steps they should take to protect their health from the extreme heat.
“People may not often think about it but extreme heat can have devastating effects on health,” said Dr. Nicole Lurie, HHS assistant secretary for preparedness and response (ASPR). “Young children, older adults, and people on certain medications can be particularly vulnerable to heat. Recognizing the signs of heat stress and knowing what to do can 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.
People suffering from heat stress should be moved to a cooler location to lie down. Apply cool, wet cloths to the body especially to head, neck, armpits and upper legs near the groin area where combined 70 percent of body heat can be lost; and have the person sip water. They should remain in the cool location until recovered with a pulse heart rate is well under 100 beats per minute.
Signs of 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 which can range from confusion and agitation to unconsciousness. Call 911 immediately and take steps to cool the person.
While children are especially vulnerable to heat illnesses, they may be unable to explain what is wrong but may act differently than usual. In extreme heat, consider changes in a child’s behavior to be heat stress.
Similarly, people with communication-related disabilities may have difficulty expressing a heat-related problem. In extreme heat, look for a change in behavior as a sign of heat stress.
Older adults face additional risk of heat stress and heat stroke, for a variety of reasons. The National Institute on Aging’s fact sheet explains more about how extreme heat can affect seniors.
To help prevent heat-related illness:
• Spend time in locations with air-conditioning when possible.
• 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 a doctor.
•Choose lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing
•Limit outdoor activity to morning and evening hours
As air conditioning use increases, electrical grids can become overwhelmed causing power outages. In power outages, people who rely on electricity-dependent medical devices, like oxygen concentrators, may need assistance so check on family members, friends and neighbors who use this type of equipment.
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 cause power outages – using theHHS emPOWER Map. 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.
For more information about how to prevent heat-related illnesses visit the HHS public health emergency preparedness website at http://emergency.cdc.gov/disasters/extremeheat/. For information about how to better prepare for disasters and other emergencies, visit www.ready.gov.
HHS’ mission is to enhance and protect the health and well-being of all Americans and fulfills its mission by providing for effective health and human services and fostering advances in medicine, public health, and social services. ASPR leads HHS in preparing the nation to respond to and recover from adverse health effects of emergencies, supporting communities’ ability to withstand adversity, strengthening health and response systems, and enhancing national health security.