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N.C. Health Officials Stress Caution During Hot Summer Months

For release: Immediate    June 1, 2011
Contact: Julie Henry, 919-707-5053

RALEIGH – Last summer’s record-breaking heat may be a distant memory, but as the thermometer begins to rise again, health officials are encouraging North Carolinians to use caution and common sense to avoid injury and illness in 2011.

“Last summer, we saw more than 1,100 emergency department visits across North Carolina due to heat-related illness,” State Health Director Dr. Jeff Engel said. “Typically, we worry most about the very young, the elderly, and people with chronic health conditions, but most of the people affected during 2010 were young and middle-aged adults. When a heat wave strikes, anyone can be a victim.”

Drinking plenty of water or juice to avoid dehydration is one of the most important ways to prevent heat-related illness. Health experts also recommend limiting time outdoors, especially in the afternoon when the sun and temperatures are at their peak. People of all ages also should:

  • Be careful about exercising or doing a lot of activities when it is hot. Stay out of the sun, take frequent breaks, drink water or juice often, even before you are thirsty, and watch for signs of heat exhaustion or heat stroke.
  • Dress for the weather. Loose-fitting, light-colored cotton clothes are cooler than dark colors or some synthetics.
  • If you live in a home without fans* or air conditioning, open windows to allow air flow, and keep shades, blinds or curtains drawn in the hottest part of the day or when the windows are in direct sunlight. Try to spend at least part of the day in an air conditioned place like a shopping mall, a store, the library, a friend’s house, or the movies. Cool showers can help, too. Do not use a fan when the air temperature is above 95 degrees - it will blow hot air, which can add to heat stress.
  • Never leave a child or a disabled or elderly person or a pet in an unattended car, even with the windows down. A closed vehicle can heat up to dangerous levels in as little as ten minutes.

“Your best protection against heat-related illness is prevention,” Engel said. “Pay attention to the weather forecast and decide in advance how to handle the hot weather.”

Individuals who work outdoors and in some indoor settings may be at higher risk for heat-related illness. Especially vulnerable worker-groups include those employed in construction, agriculture, and certain manufacturing sectors. The N.C. Division of Public Health has produced a fact sheet for workers and employers with tips on preventing illness that is available to be downloaded.

The Division of Public Health will be monitoring heat-related illness activity at emergency departments during the summer months through the North Carolina Disease Event Tracking and Epidemiologic Collection Tool (NC DETECT). NC DETECT was created by the North Carolina Division of Public Health (NC DPH) in 2004 in collaboration with the UNC Department of Emergency Medicine to address the need for early event detection and timely public health surveillance in North Carolina.


*Operation Fan/Heat Relief offers people who are 60 or older or people with disabilities the opportunity to receive one fan per year to help alleviate heat problems within their home. More information on local provider agencies distributing the fans can be found on the web, by calling the regional Area Agency on Aging or by contacting a local aging agency.
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