Michael F. Easley

The Great Seal of the State of North Carolina Carmen Hooker Odom

North Carolina
Department of Health and Human Services

For Release: IMMEDIATE
Date: August 28, 2007

  Contact: Debbie Crane

Heat Wave Emergency Department Monitoring Yields Surprising Results

State to Modify Heat Warnings

RALEIGH – The recent heat wave gave North Carolina public health officials their first opportunity to use a new monitoring tool to track heat-related visits to hospital emergency departments. What they found will lead them to modify their warnings during future heat waves.

The North Carolina Disease Event Tracking and Epidemiologic Collection Tool (NC-DETECT) tracks emergency department patient visits and Carolina Poison Control Center calls to monitor public health and environmental health threats. Although it is usually used to track communicable disease, it can be programmed to also look for symptoms of other kinds of illness, including heat-related illness.

The summer’s first heat wave started on Aug, 4 and ran through Aug.10. NC-DETECT found that an average of 84 heat-related emergency department visits per day was recorded during that time period, compared to an average of 12 per day during the months prior to the heat wave. The peak occurred on Aug. 9, when 150 visits occurred.

NC-DETECT confirms what public health officials thought would happen during a heat wave – that heat related emergency department visits would increase. But, the surveillance system also provided some surprising results. Although the state issues heat-related warnings prior to and during heat waves, they usually focus on the very young and the very old. The NC-DETECT surveillance found that 15 -19 year olds and 25 – 44 year olds had the highest rate of heat-related emergency department visits during the recent heat wave. Although NC-DETECT doesn’t capture the activity that may have resulted in overheating, public health officials suspect that – given the ages involved – the overheating probably occurred as a result of exertion during outdoors work or exercise.

“We need to talk to those people in our warnings and tell them that they can become sick as a result of excessive heat,” said State Health Director Dr. Leah Devlin. “In particular, they need to watch their exertion level and remain hydrated. In the future, we’ll be talking to those people as well as the frail elderly and folks who care for the very young. Without NC-DETECT, we would not know just how much risk they face.”

NC-DETECT monitors 104 of the state’s 111 24/7 emergency departments. NC-DETECT was developed by the Division of Public Health, in partnership with the UNC School of Medicine Department of Emergency Medicine and the NC Hospital Association, as an early warning surveillance system to detect severe illness that would send people to the hospital. Originally intended to detect bioterrorism events, the system is able to alert health officials regarding any potential widespread health event.


Public Affairs Office
101 Blair Drive, Raleigh, NC 27603
FAX (919)733-7447

Debbie Crane