DOCTOR'S VIEW ARCHIVE
Heat-related illness and death due to hot weather of
summer can be prevented.
During a period from July 12 to July 16, 1995 a record heat wave was felt in Chicago, Illinois. This particular heat wave resulted in an unprecedented health impact on residents of that city.
In a study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine (1996;335:84-90), Jan C. Semenza, Ph.D. and colleagues sought to determine who was at the greatest risk for death due to heart and blood vessel disease of those exposed to the extreme summer heat of Chicago in 1995. The authors noted that in the heat wave there were at least 700 additional deaths, most of which were heat-related.
Dr. Semenza's study found that the risk of heat-related death was increased for persons in the following groups:
- those who were unable to care for themselves
- those who did not leave their home each day
- those confined to bed
- those who lived alone
- those living on the top floor of their building
- those with underlying medical illness
- those with social contacts (group activities or friends in the area)
- those with working air conditioners (or access to them in a lobby of an apartment building)
In an accompanying editorial, Arthur L. Kellermann, M.D., M.P.H. and Knox H. Todd, M.D., M.P.H. point out that survival from heatstroke depends on early treatment, with rapid cooling, before irreversible injury or death occur. They point out that communities must recognize and respond to heat waves. When those at greatest risk are confined to their homes "opening shelters is not enough." Further, they point out that studies have shown that fans are useless in heatstroke prevention when there is extremely high summer heat and humidity. They recommend redirecting monies spent on fans.
We recommend those who know of vulnerable people, friends, and/or relatives take precautions to assure their safety during heat waves by:
- Maintaining regular contact.
- Promoting social interaction.
- Ensuring air conditioning access (even a few hours a day during heat waves is protective).
- Seeking lower story housing for the elderly.
- Optimizing care of underlying medical conditions.
- Promoting water intake, especially during hot summer months.
- Promoting home health contacts, such as Meals on Wheels, visiting nursing, etc.
- Providing emergency phone or warning alarm options.