Health department offers advice for avoiding heat related illness

Last updated: July 21. 2014 3:14PM - 315 Views
By Pat Pratt ppratt@civitasmedia.com

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As meteorologists expect the mercury to near the triple digit range today, Pettis County Health Department officials would like to remind the public to keep cool and that several community resources are available.

Pettis County is in a Heat Advisory effective since noon Monday until 7 p.m. today. Temperatures were expected to climb into the 90s Monday with a heat index approaching 97 to 100 degrees. Today will be even hotter with temperatures in the mid to high 90s with a heat index of 100 to 105 degrees.

“Pace yourself, be alert to your body’s warning signs,” said Administrator JoAnn Martin, Pettis County Health Department. “Know how you are going to cool off and use water as your primary means to replenish your body’s fluids. Check on your neighbors. Never, ever, leave a child, an elderly person or a pet in a car.”

Martin said those with underlying health problems and the elderly are especially at risk, but even young people who think they are immune from the elements find themselves suffering heat related illnesses.

“The other groups we see a lot are the ‘invincible’ young people who think nothing is going to bother them,” Martin said. “They will be out mowing the grass or running, and running is good, but they do it in the heat of the day.”

After a cold front pushed through the area last week, temperatures have remained unseasonably cool with highs in the lower to mid-80s and lows even dipping into the upper 50s at one point. Martin said this quick transition back to heat indexes in the 100s is especially dangerous.

“It’s particularly stressing when we have had a summer like this one where it’s been cool, cool, cool, then we get into the heat. The body takes time to acclimate. When you take people to a hot environment, you have to take time to get them used to that,” Martin said.

Anyone who has lived or visited Missouri knows that in addition to see-saw temperatures, the humidity can make life miserable. In addition to the misery of sweltering, soup-like conditions brought on by high humidity, it also affects the body’s ability to cool itself.

“Even though the temperature is only 90, the humidity may be very high. That impacts your body’s ability to cool,” Martin said. “The body’s natural way to cool is through evaporation. When you are sweating there is moisture on skin and when you get a breeze it cools you down, when the air is humid that process is not as efficient. You’re still sweating buckets, but you’re not getting the benefit of cooling as quickly.”

The symptoms of heat-related illness often start with a headache and nausea, then evolve to muscle cramps and fatigue. Health officials stressed the need to replenish fluids to avoid dehydration and Martin said waiting to get thirsty is not a good indicator.

“By the time you are really thirsty, you are probably a quart low on fluids already,” she said. “So if you are waiting to get thirsty and you are in the hot environment, you are getting into the process a little late.”

Caffeinated beverages and alcoholic beverages should be avoided, as they do not re-hydrate the body. Repeatedly, health experts have said drinking water is the best method of avoiding dehydration. When dehydration sets in, blood volume decreases, forcing the heart to work harder and can result in brain damage.

“It’s almost like a form of shock. You don’t have enough blood circulating and in severe cases you get nausea, vomiting and loss of consciousness. The body temperature can shoot up to an amount that causes cellular destruction and then brain death,” Martin said.

The final stage of heat-related illness is heat stroke, which can result in death.

“Stroke is when you get those really serious consequences,” Martin said. “That’s when you move into the really severe headache which can result in a loss of consciousness. That can result in death.”

If a person is experiencing any of these symptoms, the first thing is to do is get them out of the heat. Have them drink water and stay cool. If symptoms persist, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room.

“Find a cool spot or take a cool shower, anything to get your body temperature down,” Martin said. “The challenge comes in when people push it to the point where they are nauseated and they can’t keep the fluid down. They may end up in the hospital to get fluids. Let somebody know you are not feeling well so they can check on you.”

Having a plan beforehand to keep cool is ideal in hot weather. Fans are a good source of cool air in the evening when temperatures drop, but are not effective in the day when they are just blowing hot air on the body. Air conditioning is great, but if it is not available, there are several cooling centers in the community.

The Senior Center, located at 312 S. Washington Ave., doubles as a cooling center, as does the Ditzfeld Recovery Center, located at 417 W. Pettis St. Convention Hall at Liberty Park is open during the day and so are the Salvation Army locations around the area. Many local churches are open during the day, as is the Sedalia Public Library.

For more information on heat-related illness, call the Pettis County Health Center at 827-1130. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) also offers several tips for keeping cool at osha.gov.

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