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It Aint Just the Heat, Its the Humidity

New York and the East Coast have suffered from early June and normal July heat waves this summer but the worst may still be yet to come. The first two heat waves, though awfully hot, were exceptionally dry.  Humidity hovered around 10%.  August is a different story.

Heat is a summertime fact of life in America.  Summer heat mortality for the U.S. exceeds a thousand deaths per year.  Many more suffer from heat-related illnesses and additional negative health affects that remain unreported.  Recent examples of the effects of the heat include more than 15,000 deaths during an oppressive heat wave in France in August 2003.  More than 700 deaths were attributed to an excessive heat conditions in Illinois, in July 1995.  Approximately 120 deaths were attributed to extreme heat in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in July 1993.  Demographic patterns including urbanization show an increase in the impact on the U.S. population.  These urban and suburban Heat Islands produce temperatures that are 2 to 10 degrees hotter than nearby areas. Elevated temperatures increase peak energy demand, air conditioning, air pollution, and heat-related illness and mortality.

Most negative health impacts are preventable.  Heat waves can be forecast and adverse health impacts can be reduced.  A little Common Sense and simple precautions are all that is necessary.  A little prevention can go a long way in the brutal heat of summer.The National Weather Service in conjunction with FEMA, and The American Red Cross has published an extremely helpful handbill Heat Wave – A Major Summer Killer (pdf) Donwnload it. Print it. Use it.

Other documents and internet services are also available online. Establish Internet connections prior to anticipated emergencies. The Weather Channel, Wunderground and the National Weather Service publish a great deal of weather data.  Local and National broadcast media also offer a numerous weather warnings. Humid or muggy conditions only add to the discomfort of high temperature. The body normally cools itself by sweating.  Sweat is often not enough.  When humidity is high, sweat does not evaporate quickly, preventing the body from releasing heat.  When the body can not compensate and cool itself, body temperature rises rapidly. High body temperatures may damage the brain or other vital organs. 

Weathermen have developed the Heat Index, a combination of a Temperature and Humidity Index, also known as the Misery Index, for obvious reasons.  In Canada, it is called the Humidex.  Numerous media outlets have developed regularly broadcast estimates of the Heat Index.  The complicated Heat Index does not specify an absolute temperature or humidity range and represents only a relation between high temperature and humidity.  Media outlets have developed regularly broadcast estimates of the Heat Index.  Exercise extreme caution when the Heat Index exceeds 90.  The heat is very dangerous when the Heat Index exceeds 100.

Air-conditioning is the number one protective factor against heat-related illness and death.  People can reduce heat-related illnesses by spending time in public facilities that are air-conditioned like the Mall, Public Libraries and Community Centers.  Unfortunately, in these days of rising energy costs, older people may hesitant in using air conditioning.  Those who need air conditioning most, may want it least.  A person in a trailer in Des Moines, a house in Pittsburgh or an apartment in New York is every bit as likely to refuse the use of an air conditioner until the last possible moment. Unfortunately, by the time the moment comes, the decision to use an air-conditioner may be overwhelmed by a victim’s physical state and resulting mental confusion.

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High-risk groups experience a disproportionate number of health impacts from Extreme Heat conditions.  The elderly, the very young, and people with mental illness and chronic diseases are most at risk.  Additional risk conditions include age, obesity, heart disease, mental illness, poor circulation, prescription drug use and alcohol abuse. Although Health officials and agencies retain primary responsibility for the elderly and the infirm through notification and care programs, many of us have personal primary-care relationships with the elderly.  In these days of increasing energy costs, the words we hear from our loved ones may not always be the truth, only what they may want you to know or what you want to hear.  Often what you do not want to know.

Another group, dear to us all, and susceptible to the heat is young people.  Alcohol and the Heat do not mix.  Young people with a proclivity for excessive alcohol consumption may not realize the cumulative effects of alcohol.  Often drunk the night before, they are unaware of how dehydrated they become.  If you know such young people, try counseling caution.  Forget about temperance.  They do not want to hear it. .  Young and healthy individuals can succumb during hot weather.The extremely young (below one year) and your pets are helpless. Keep them cool and out of the sun.  Never leave an animal or a child in a car for a minute.  On hot summer days, car temperatures rise more than 20 degrees in less than 10 minutes.  Be sure everyone is out of the car.  Do not leave infants or pets in a parked car.  Do not overlook any children who have fallen asleep.
What you can do
Increase your fluid intake. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty.  In 90 degree heat, you may lose a half gallon of water in 10 minutes.  Consistently hydrating your body over longer periods of time is sufficient.  Stay away from excessively sweetened (commercial) drinks.  They do little good.  Do not drink excessively cold liquids, they may cause heat cramps.
• Eat less and avoid hot food and heavy meals.  Avoid Alcohol.
• Go to a mall, a movie, a friend’s or relative’s home or heat-relief shelters
• Buy a fan, or more importantly, an air-conditioner
• Wear loose fitting, light-colored, a wide-brimmed hat and sunscreen.  Sunburn may complicate the situation
• Go out early or after dark or better yet, stay indoors or in the shade.
• Check on elderly neighbors or relatives.
• Provide pets plenty of water.  Bring them inside.
• Pace your outside activity or, better yet, stay cool indoors. If you must schedule outdoor activities for the early hours when it is cooler or during the evening hours
• Tune into weather broadcasts for and heed it!
Be Aware and Take Care.

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