Transcript of Get Ready Report Podcast, episode 40

This is the Get Ready Report, coming to you from Washington, D.C. In this episode entitled, “Get ready for extreme heat: tips on heat safety and preparedness,” we interview Dr. Ethel Taylor of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Environmental Health. She is interviewed by Get Ready team member Lavanya Gupta.

My first question for you is what does the term “heat stress” mean?

Heat stress is a broad term that we use to describe several conditions that can occur when your body is exposed to too much heat. Two of these that you will often hear talked about are actually heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

And can you tell us a little bit about the difference between heat stroke and heat exhaustion?

Sure. Heat exhaustion is the body’s response to an excessive loss of water and salt contained in sweat, and can usually develop after exposure to high temperatures or inadequate or invalid replacement of fluids. Symptoms of heat exhaustieavy sweating, paleness, muscle cramps, tiredness, weakness, dizziness, headaches, nausea or vomiting and even sometimes fainting. The skin can be cool and moist, the person can develop a fast pulse and the breon can include hathing will be fast and shallow many times. Unfortunately, if left untreated, heat exhaustion can actually progress to heat stroke. Heat stroke occurs when the body is unable to regulate temperature. Some symptoms of heat stroke will include body temperature above 103 degrees Fahrenheit; red, hot and dry skin as a result of not being able to sweat; a rapid, strong pulse; a throbbing headache; dizziness; nausea; and confusion or unconsciousness. In extreme cases, body temperature can rise as high 106 degrees Fahrenheit or higher within 10-15 minutes, so this can happen quite rapidly; and if treatment is not provided quickly, heat stroke can sometimes lead to permanent disability or even death.

Are there specific populations that are at greater risk for heat stroke or heat exhaustion?

Extreme heat can affect anybody, but there are some groups that are at higher risk, here described: People at homes without air conditioning, older adults, young children, people with chronic medical conditions such as heart disease or respiratory disease and people who work or exercise outside are usually at higher risk.

So, we know that health-related illnesses and deaths can be prevented if we take the proper precautions. Can you share some tips on what we can do to prepare ourselves before or during a heat wave?

Sure. So it’s really important for people to remember three things: to stay cool, to stay hydrated and to stay informed in order to prevent these illnesses and deaths. They can stay cool in air-conditioned spaces as much as possible and by wearing lightweight, loose-fitting clothing; and if you don’t have air-conditioning available, you can take cool showers or baths to lower your body temperature. And if you are working outside or exercising outside, make sure to take frequent breaks, particularly during periods of high temperatures. People need to stay hydrated by drinking more water than usual, staying away from alcoholic or sugary drinks and not waiting until they’re thirsty to start drinking water. And then finally we want people to stay informed by knowing the signs and symptoms of heat-related illness and by tuning in to heat-related alerts in your area; and if you hear a heat-related alert in your area, make sure to tell older adults friends and neighbors about that as well since they are at higher risk for heat-related illness and death.

That’s good to know. Thank you very much. How can extreme heat affect people in different regions?

So, there are some people that live in places with cooler average temperatures that can actually be at higher risk for extreme heat. Since they may be less aware of the dangers of heat, they aren’t always acclimated to the hotter temperatures, and many times homes in these areas don’t have air-conditioning. Some studies have also shown that asphalt and concrete in cities can trap more heat than vegetation, so people living in urban areas without many green spaces can experience higher temperatures. In addition, high-rise apartments, particularly those without air-conditioning, can also be a risk factor for extreme heat exposure. So it’s important that people stay either in air-conditioned areas of their buildings or that they go to cool stations or air-conditioned public places. So even a couple hours of air-conditioning a day can really prevent heat-illnesses and death.

That’s good to know and I think that’s a good reminder for folks who live in urban versus suburban or rural areas or in areas with cooler temperatures on average that they should pay attention to how extreme heat might affect them differently. So that’s good to know.

Right. We see extreme heat deaths from all over the country, and so this is not just a problem for people in higher temperatures.

So, some areas have cooling stations where people can visit during extreme heat events, do you know of any resources that can help us to locate them in our area?

Sure, so in most cases locations of cooling stations are available online or you can easily contact your local health departments to get more information on where you can find a cooling station. In addition, public places like libraries, shopping malls, movie theaters and community centers are great places to cool off as well.

So, folks with pets, if pets are not allowed in cooling stations, what advice can you give to people and their pets in extreme heat situations?

So, I think over the years we’ve gotten a lot better about including pets in our extreme heat events planning; however, some cooling stations these days will actually accept pets as long as they are caged or properly restrained. However, if you do have to leave your pet behind, you want to make sure that they’re in a shady location and that they have plenty of water available. And never leave your pet unattended in the car, even if it’s just for a few minutes. If people need more information on how to take care of their pets during hot weather, you can either contact your local veterinarians or there are several organizations such as the American Veterinarian Medical Association, the Humane Society or ASPCA that has online resources available that can be quite helpful.

How can we tell if we are experiencing symptoms of heat illness?

So, again, it’s really important that people be familiar with what the early warning signs of heat exposure are, including muscle cramps, heavy sweating, weakness, nausea or vomiting and cold or clammy skin. If people ignore or don’t treat these signs and symptoms promptly, it can progress into heat stroke or even die in some severe cases.

And once we realize that we are suffering from some of these symptoms, what should we do immediately?

If you or someone around you starts experiencing any of these symptoms, you need to immediately move the person to a cooler location; have them drink cool, non-alcoholic beverages to replace the lost fluids; and try to cool their body down by loosening restrictive clothing and applying cool wet cloths or putting them in a cool water bath or shower.  If a person has started vomiting, avoid giving them anything to drink and to seek medical attention immediately. Likewise if the symptoms don’t improve after an hour or so, you need to seek medical care.

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Posted: Sept. 10, 2014