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Heat-related Emergency Visits Spike Starting Memorial Day Weekend

Water-related deaths also go up as weather gets warmer; DHHS urges common-sense precautions

For release: Immediate    May 24, 2012
Contact: Julie Henry (919) 855-4840

RALEIGH – The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) today reported that people visited emergency departments more than 1,200 times last summer for heat-related issues, with a spike in injuries and illnesses coming Memorial Day weekend, when temperatures hovered in the 90s. More than 130 individuals were treated for heat-related illness between May 25 and June 6, 2011. With increasing temperatures forecast for this Memorial Day and through the month of June, health officials urge caution and common sense to stay safe this summer.

“Most of the heat-related visits to hospitals last year were among young and middle-aged adults,” State Health Director Laura Gerald said. “People who spend a lot of time in the heat – whether working or playing – need to be sure to stay hydrated, take frequent breaks in the shade, and be alert to signs of heat exhaustion or heat stroke.”

Memorial Day is often the start of swimming season. According to a just-released study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, other than birth defects, drowning is the leading cause of death for children age 1 to 4 in the United States. In 2010, 34 people died from outdoor-water related incidents in North Carolina; 18 of those deaths occurred among children ages 1 to 4.

DHHS offers these summer safety tips:

  • Know the symptoms of heat stroke -- high body temperature, dry skin (no sweating), rapid pulse, headache, dizziness, nausea, confusion, or unconsciousness. If you or someone you know has these symptoms, cool your body temperature (like cold showers or water) and seek immediate medical assistance.
  • Limit your time outdoors, especially in the afternoon when the day is hottest.
  • Never leave a child, 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 10 minutes.
  • Dress appropriately in loose-fitting, light-colored cotton clothes.

Also remember that some medications, as certain psychiatric medications, can affect your ability to sweat. Consult your health care provider for recommendations on how to monitor your body’s response to the heat while taking medicines.

Some important water safety tips to remember include:

  • Do not mix alcohol with your outdoor activities, especially if swimming or boating.
  • Designate a responsible adult to watch young children when they are swimming or playing in or around water. Supervisors of preschool children should provide “touch supervision,” and should be close enough to reach the child at all times.
  • Adults should not be involved in any other distracting activity such as reading, playing cards, talking on the phone, or mowing the lawn while supervising children.
  • Do not swim alone or in dangerous or turbulent water.
  • Teach yourself and your children how to swim.

Information and weekly reports on heat-related illness activity at emergency departments during the summer months is available at http://www.publichealth.nc.gov/chronicdiseaseandinjury/heat.htm.

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