Heatstroke Prevention Heatstroke Prevention – SOMETHING ABOUT SCIENCE

Heatstroke Prevention

A polar bear in a hot summer day at a Japanese zoo. Photo credit: Copanda V. on Flickr

A polar bear in a hot summer day at a Japanese zoo. Photo credit: Copanda V. on Flickr

Summertime is fun. The brilliant sun lures you to the great outdoors for activities like hiking, beach trips, gardening, and whatnot. (This is especially true here in the Pacific Northwest, where we endure endless rain the rest of the year….) As days remain extremely hot in some parts of the world, however, health organizations are warning people about heatstroke.

Japan is currently experiencing a heat wave, and the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare is raising awareness for heat-related illnesses. These illnesses are usually caused by extended exposures to heat and humidity. Loss of water and salt through sweat, if not replenished frequently, makes the body difficult to cope with the heat. Watch out for symptoms of heat illnesses, which include lightheadedness, numbness, nausea, headache, fever, and fainting. Heatstroke is the most severe form, and it can cause disability and death. If you experience or find someone with the symptoms, immediately move to a cool area (such as in the shade) and cool the body, especially areas around the major arteries, such as the neck and armpits. Drink water – sport drinks can also replenish salt and sugar. If someone has fainted or is unable to drink, call an ambulance.

The ministry says seniors and young children are especially susceptible to overheating. Their lower or underdeveloped metabolism makes it difficult to adjust the body temperatures, and they may also not recognize the signs of heat illnesses. According to the ministry’s statistics from 2010, overheating claimed 1,731 lives in Japan, 80% being ages above 65. I was also surprised to find that 46% of the 1,731 deaths happened at home (including backyards and garages). We may tend to associate heatstroke with playgrounds and outdoor activities, but this is not always the case. Heat illnesses can happen indoors – even without physical exertions, depending on your physical conditions and the extent of heat stress, the ministry cautions.

Photo credit: Shenghung Lin on Flickr

Photo credit: Shenghung Lin on Flickr

For comparison, here are statistics from Canada and the United States. Both countries have much lower heat-related mortality rates than Japan. “In Canada, extreme heat events are not well documented,” states Health Canada, presumably because these incidents are rare. Between 1900 and 2005, about 1,200 documented deaths occurred across Canada due to heat waves. In 2009, a heat wave caused 134 deaths in Vancouver. (These numbers are from Canadian Disaster Database by Public Safety Canada). In the U.S., average deaths of 618 per year are heat-related, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Incidentally, tomorrow, July 31st, is National Heatstroke Prevention Day in the U.S. The two founding organizations, Safe Kids Worldwide and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, are reminding parents and caregivers not to leave children in hot vehicles. (Might I add, never leave children unattended in cars!) “Every 10 days, across the United States, a child dies while unattended in a hot car,” says Amanda Knowles on Safe Kids Worldwide’s blog.

So, protect yourself and others from heat illnesses this summer. Enjoy outdoor/indoor activities while taking frequent breaks and staying well hydrated! I love swimming, making sangria and barbeques, and going to summer festivals. What are your favorite summertime activities?

A kangaroo rests in the shade in a hot day. Smart choice! Photo credit: J P on Flickr

A kangaroo takes a break under the shade in a hot day. Smart choice! Photo credit: J P on Flickr

Lynn Kimlicka

I am a scientist-turned writer and editor, who loves to read and write (more than doing experiments). I have a PhD in biochemistry and molecular biology, with a specialization in structural biology. My interests range widely, from life sciences to pop culture and arts to music. I am bilingual in English and Japanese.

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