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Heat illness-related emergency department visits on the rise
North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services

Heat illness-related emergency department visits on the rise

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RALEIGH — According to the North Carolina Division of Public Health, there have been 1,205 heat-related hospital emergency department visits reported since May 1.

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services urges people to take precautions to avoid heat exhaustion and other heat-related illnesses, especially on hot days.

Prolonged exposure to heat can lead to dehydration, overheating, heat illness or even death. From May 1 to Aug. 31, 2019, there were 3,692 emergency department visits for heat-related illnesses, similar to the summers of 2017 and 2018. Patients presenting at emergency departments with heat-related illnesses are mostly men ages 45 to 64, and most have been seen in hospitals in North Carolina’s Piedmont and coastal regions. Common activities noted in emergency department visits were working outdoors and recreation.

Health and Human Services public health experts encourage those who must be outdoors during the heat to take extra precautions by increasing fluid intake and reducing normal activity levels.

People should stay wary of signs of heat-related illness. Symptoms include muscle cramps, fatigue, weakness, dizziness, fainting, headaches, nausea and vomiting. Children, older people, outdoor workers and those with chronic health conditions are most vulnerable.

To reduce the risk of heat-related illness:

» Increase fluid intake.

» Take frequent breaks in cool and shady or air-conditioned places if spending extended time outside.

» Reduce normal activity levels.

» Speak with a physician about how to stay safe if you take medicines that make you more vulnerable to heat. These include tranquilizers or drugs for high blood pressure, migraines, allergies, muscle spasms and mental illness.

» Check on neighbors. If working outdoors, check on co-workers.

» Never leave children or pets unattended in vehicles, especially during warm or hot weather. The temperature in a car can reach a deadly level in a matter of minutes.

» High heat days also may be poor air quality days, which can pose an additional threat to those living with chronic health conditions, older adults and children. Air quality information can be found at https://bit.ly/2X7Spnu.

There may be cooling assistance available for those who are eligible. This includes Operation Fan Heat Relief, a summer program intended to provide a more comfortable living environment and reduce heat-related illnesses for older adults and those with disabilities. The program runs through Oct. 31. For information, call your local Area Agency on Aging at 828-322-9191.

Each week, staffers at the state Division of Public Health’s Occupational and Environmental Epidemiology Branch compile and publish the North Carolina Heat Report. The report shows statewide heat-related illness patterns and daily maximum heat indices averaged for location of heat-related illness emergency department visits. The indices reflect the levels of comfort — or discomfort — related to heat and humidity and the danger of hot summer temperatures.

The heat report describes the number of emergency department visits as reported by NC DETECT, the state’s disease event tracking and epidemiologic collection tool. The statewide surveillance system was created in 2004 by the Division of Public Health and the Carolina Center for Health Informatics in the UNC Department of Emergency Medicine.

For more information on how to prevent heat-related health issues, or to sign up to receive the weekly North Carolina Heat Report via email, visit https://bit.ly/2P3pXih.

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