August 21, 2003

Health Department Announces Statewide Hot Weather Health Advisory

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services issued a statewide Hot Weather Health Advisory Monday, August 18 due to the high temperatures and humidity across the state. Heat indexes across the state were very high over the weekend, and weather forecasters are predicting continued high heat indexes for several days.

The advisory reminds Missourians of the dangers posed by the high heat and humidity and urges them to take extra precautions to prevent heat-related illness and death.

Residents are encouraged to check on their elderly family members and neighbors regularly to be sure they are not suffering from the effects of high temperatures. Do not leave infants and children unattended in hot environments.

"Missourians need to be aware that exposure to high temperatures and humidity can be very dangerous, especially for older Missourians," said Richard Dunn, director of the Department of Health and Senior Services. "The hot weather health advisory means that weather conditions may cause heat-related illness and death during this time and necessary precautions should be taken."

To date in 2003, there have been five reported heat-related deaths in Missouri, and 125 heat-related illnesses have been reported. In 2002, 24 Missourians died due to heat-related causes.

The elderly and the chronically ill are more vulnerable to the effects of high temperatures. They perspire less and are more likely to have health problems requiring medications that impair the body's response to heat. Of the 24 Missourians that died last year due to heat-related causes, 12 of these were individuals aged 65 or older.

During prolonged periods of high temperatures, air conditioning is the best preventive measure.

Infants and children up to 4 years of age are sensitive to the effects of high temperatures and rely on others to regulate their environments and provide adequate liquids. Infants and children should never be left unattended in a parked car or other hot environment.

Also at risk are unacclimated adults of any age who work or exercise vigorously outdoors and fail to rest frequently in a cool environment or drink enough fluids. Other risk factors include a history of heat stroke, obesity, infection or fever, diarrhea or dehydration, poor circulation, diabetes, sunburn and drug and alcohol use.

As part of the state's effort to aid in the alert, Dunn reminded Missourians that the state's toll-free adult abuse hotline can be used to report any elderly persons who may be suffering from the heat and need assistance. The number is 1-800-392-0210. If the hotline call identifies a person who may be in a life-threatening situation, a member of the Division of Senior Services' network will quickly contact those individuals.

"During the heat wave, we should all make the extra effort to check up on the elderly, the disabled and the home-bound," Dunn said. "Through the efforts of volunteer agencies, state and local governments and concerned neighbors, we can help prevent heat tragedies."

Although fans are less expensive to operate, they may not be effective, and may even be harmful, when temperatures are very high. As the air temperature rises, airflow is increasingly ineffective in cooling the body until finally, at temperatures above about 100 F (the exact number varies with the humidity) increasing air movement actually increases heat stress. More specifically, when the temperature of the air rises to about 100 F, the fan may be delivering overheated air to the skin at a rate that exceeds the capacity of the body to get rid of this heat, even with sweating, and the net effect is to add heat rather than to cool the body. An air conditioner, if one is available, or seeking shelter in an air-conditioned building is a much better alternative.

More information on heat-related illness is available through the Department of Health and Senior Services Home page at http://www.dhss.state.mo.us/ColdAndHeat/CandH.html.

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