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As heat index rises so does dangers of heat-related illnesses

By DAVID TEWES
Aug. 6, 2010 at 3:06 a.m.


Heat's a killerIn the disastrous heat wave of 1980, more than 1,250 people died, according to the National Weather Service.

In the heat wave of 1995, more than 700 deaths in the Chicago area were attributed to heat. In August 2003, a record heat wave in Europe claimed an estimated 50,000 lives.

Studies indicate that, other things being equal, the severity of heat disorders tends to increase with age. Conditions that cause heat cramps in a 17-year-old may result in heat exhaustion in someone 40 and heat stroke in a person over 60.

Heat illnessesSunburn: Redness and pain. In severe cases swelling of skin, blisters, fever, headaches. First Aid: ointments for mild cases if blisters appear and do not break. Extensive cases should be seen by physician.

Heat cramps: Painful spasms, usually in the muscles of legs and abdomen. Heavy sweating. First Aid: Firm pressure on cramping muscles or gentle massage to relieve spasm. Give sips of water. If nausea occurs, discontinue water.

Heat exhaustion: Heavy sweating, weakness, skin is cold, pale and clammy. Normal temperature possible. Fainting and vomiting. First Aid: Get victim out of sun. Once inside, the person should lay down and loosen clothing. Apply cool, wet cloths. Fan or move victim to air conditioned room. Offer sips of water. If nausea occurs, discontinue water. If vomiting continues, seek immediate medical attention.

Heat stroke (or sunstroke): High body temperature (106 degrees or higher). Hot, dry skin. Rapid and strong pulse. Possible unconsciousness. First Aid: Heat stroke is a severe medical emergency. Summon emergency medical assistance or get the victim to a hospital immediately. Delay can be fatal. While waiting for emergency assistance, move the victim to a cooler environment, reduce body temperature with cold bath or sponging. Use extreme caution. Remove clothing, use fans and air conditioners. If temperature rises again, repeat process. Do not give fluids. People on salt restrictive diets should consult a physician before increasing their salt intake.

The heat index in the Crossroads is forecast to continue reaching potentially deadly readings, but authorities said people are apparently heeding warnings and taking it easy.

"Some of my patrons are staying here a little bit later so they don't have to use the electricity at their house," said Debbie Garner with the Senior Citizens Center of Victoria County. "But as far as an influx of new visitors, there may be a couple here."

Dayna Williams-Capone, director of the Victoria Public Library, said that operation hasn't seen an increase in the number of patrons seeking relief from the heat.

"We've not seen anyone that we've identify as just coming in here for a cool place," she said. "We know who our regulars are."

Matt Grantham, with the National Weather Service, said the heat index is forecast to reach 105 to 110 degrees through Thursday and possibly beyond that.

"It looks like the weather pattern is going to persist for a while," he said. "There are really no major weather features coming this way for next week."

The heat index factor gauges the effect the combination temperature and relative humidity have on people. Grantham said the weather isn't that unusual for this time of year, with highs in the 90s and lows in the 70s.

But the heat and humidity can still be a deadly combination.

Heat is the No. 1 weather-related killer in the United States. National Weather Service statistics show that heat causes more fatalities per year than floods, lightning, tornadoes and hurricanes combined.

Battalion Chief Roger Hempel, with the Victoria Fire Department, said he's seen a slight increase in heat-related medical calls. He said that may increase as the heat continues.

"It's really hard to tell," he said. "People need to drink plenty of water and stay hydrated and cool down when needed."

Garner said people in Victoria County are in need of fans to help keep them cool because they can't afford to run the air conditioner.

"It's hot outside." she said. "People are getting these electric bills for $600 and they can't afford them."

Bloomington resident Erasmo Reyes Sr., 63, said he's one of those who could use help. He said he has cancer, is disabled and living on Social Security payments.

"We put the air conditioner on when we can," he said. "But we cut it off when we have to."

He said he just got a bill from the power company for $400 and can't afford it.

Garner said the public can help by donating fans or money for fans. She said the three drop-off locations include the senior citizens center at 603 E. Murray St., the Community Action Committee of Victoria at 4007 Halsey St. and KAVU-TV at 3808 N. Navarro St.

"We need them," Garner said. "As soon as we get them, they're gone."

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