Extreme Heat Coming Soon

(Cupventi.com) – In Phoenix, where daytime temperatures have been surpassing 110 degrees Fahrenheit for three consecutive weeks, emergency room doctors view extreme heat as a significant public health emergency. The alarming statistics from 2022 indicate a 25% increase in heat-related mortality in Arizona’s Maricopa County compared to the previous year.

Dr. Geoff Comp, an emergency medicine physician at Valleywise Health Medical Center, emphasizes the urgency of dealing with heat-related issues. His protocols involve treating heat stroke victims using the latest standard of care, which includes immersive cooling in a body bag filled with ice and zipped up to shoulder level. The ER is well-prepared with ice freezers, and they can access more from the food service department.

The use of body bags for cooling is preferred due to their water-resistant properties, ability to cool rapidly, and space to accommodate medical devices like IV tubing and temperature probes. Despite their effectiveness, Dr. Comp acknowledges the need for a less morbid-sounding alternative.

Extreme heat is becoming more frequent and intense in various regions, leading to increased mortality from heat-related illnesses, not only in traditionally vulnerable areas like Arizona and Texas but also in regions with milder climates, like the Pacific Northwest. Vulnerable populations include infants, elderly individuals, those with chronic diseases, pregnant women, people with mental illness, and individuals on certain medications that heighten heat sensitivity. Sadly, heat-related illnesses disproportionately affect people of color, those with lower incomes, and individuals unable to afford air conditioning or forced to work outdoors in oppressive heat.

The urban heat island effect is particularly concerning in large cities, where excessive asphalt and a lack of tree canopy contribute to dangerously high ambient temperatures. Asphalt in places like Phoenix can reach up to 180 degrees Fahrenheit during heatwaves, leading to severe burns from brief contact.

Heat stroke is the most significant health risk during extreme heat, with a mortality rate ranging from 10% to 65%, depending on factors like duration of heat exposure and underlying health conditions. Heat exhaustion is a precursor to heat stroke and requires prompt hydration and cooling to prevent further complications.

Prevention is crucial, and primary care doctors play a key role in educating and preparing individuals, especially those at higher risk, to avoid heat-related illnesses. A pilot project from Americares and the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health’s Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment aims to provide resources and training for community health centers and free clinics serving underinsured and uninsured patients.

The project equips clinic administrators and providers with weather alerts and evidence-based resources to manage heat emergencies effectively. Guidance includes protecting pregnant patients from heat-related illness and understanding the risks of heat exposure for individuals with mental health conditions.

A crucial aspect of heat action plans involves providing air conditioners and air purifiers to those who cannot afford them, as well as directing vulnerable residents and unhoused individuals to cooling centers during heatwaves. Various localities offer assistance programs to help low-income households reduce energy bills and obtain cooling devices.

The long-term goal is to integrate climate-related health risks, including heat vulnerability, into patients’ medical records, enabling healthcare providers to proactively address their patients’ needs during extreme climate events. By doing so, clinicians can better protect their most vulnerable patients and mitigate the health impacts of climate change.