July 20, 2006

First Heat Wave of Summer Hits Region With Dangerous Conditions

While the mercury never hit triple digits on Monday, the region felt the impact of the first official heat advisory. Scotland County was under the warning from the National Weather Service making residents aware of the threat of heat indexes at dangerously high levels between 105 to 114 degrees on July 17th.

The heat advisory was issued for much of southeast Iowa and northeast Missouri, but did offer hope of some relief from the hot temperatures. An arriving cold front dropped some needed rain on the region the evening of July 17th but the temperatures shot right back to the danger level the following day.

The heat advisory warned residents of the threat of heat related illnesses, a risk that was made very apparent on Sunday, July 16th at Busch Stadium. A number of local fans were on hand at the new St. Louis stadium when an estimated 75 spectators were treated for heat-related illnesses while trying to take in the ball game.

According to the weather service, high temperatures combined with high humidity levels mean the public should seek air-conditioned settings, drink plenty of fluids and try to stay out of the sun. Health officials also ask citizens to be mindful of elderly friends and neighbors, children and those suffering medical conditions and to check in on people without air conditioning to insure their safety.

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) advised Missourians to take extra precautions to protect themselves from heat-related illnesses and deaths during this week’s heat wave. High temperatures and humidity can combine to create deadly conditions, especially for high-risk populations such as the very young, the very old, and people weakened by chronic illness or other health conditions. People 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, and to never leave infants and children unattended in hot environments.

Each year many Missourians suffer from heat-related illnesses, and even death. So far this year there have been reports of 23 heat-related illnesses and one confirmed death. Last year 25 Missourians died due to heat-related causes; 12 of these persons were age 65 or older. Between 1995-2005, 312 Missourians died due to heat-related causes. During prolonged periods of high temperatures, air conditioning is the best preventive measure.

“Missourians need to be aware that exposure to high temperatures and humidity can cause heat-related illness and even death,” said Julie Eckstein, Director of the Department of Health and Senior Services.

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

The elderly and the chronically ill are also more vulnerable to the effects of high temperatures. They perspire less and are more likely to have health problems requiring medications that can impair the body’s response to heat.

“This summer we urge all Missourians to check on elderly family members and neighbors regularly to be sure they are not suffering from the effects of high temperatures,” Eckstein said. “Do not leave infants and children unattended in hot environments.”

Heat-related illness occurs when the body’s temperature control system is overloaded. The body normally cools itself by sweating, but when the humidity is high, sweat will not evaporate as quickly, preventing the body from releasing heat quickly. Other conditions that can limit the ability to regulate body temperature include old age, obesity, infection or fever, diarrhea or dehydration, certain medications, heart disease, poor circulation, diabetes, sunburn and drug or alcohol use. Very high body temperatures may damage the brain or other vital organs.

An average of 350 people a year die nationwide from heat stroke according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. That is more deaths than are attributed annually to lightning, tornadoes, flooding and hurricanes combined.

According to the health department, heat stroke occurs when the body becomes unable to control its temperature: the body’s temperature rises rapidly, the sweating mechanism fails, and the body is unable to cool down. Heat stroke can develop within minutes or hours. Heat stroke can cause death or permanent disability if emergency treatment is not given. Treatment includes rapidly lowering the person’s body temperature followed by intensive supportive care.

Warning signs of heat stroke vary but may include: extremely high body temperature (above 103° F orally); red, hot and dry skin (no sweating); rapid pulse; throbbing headache; dizziness; nausea; and confusion.

The Weather Channel is forecasting temperatures in the upper 90s for the rest of the week with some relief expected by the weekend.

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