High Temperatures Return to Parts of NC; Heat Illness-Related Emergency Department Visits Top 3,100


According to the  Division of Public Health, there were 3,150 heat-related hospital emergency department visits reported from May 1 to Aug. 10, due to the combination of heat and humidity — particularly during periods of extreme heat. The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services is encouraging precautions, especially on hot days.

Prolonged exposure to heat can lead to dehydration, overheating, heat illness or even death. During the on-again, off-again summer heat, DHHS public health experts encourage those who must be outside to take extra precautions by limiting time outside, wearing light weight and loose-fitting clothing when possible and drinking plenty of water.

Those showing up at emergency departments were mostly male, ages 25 to 64, and most were seen in hospitals in the state’s Piedmont and Coastal regions. Common activities noted in emergency department visits were working outdoors and recreation. From May to September 2018, there were 4,024 emergency department visits for heat-related illness, similar to the summers of 2016 and 2017.

In past years, record high temperatures have reached into the 90s through late September, so more heat is likely before cooler fall temperatures arrive this year.

Each week, staff in DPH’s Occupational & Environmental Epidemiology Branch compiles and publishes the North Carolina Heat Report. The report shows the range of daily maximum heat indices at Raleigh-Durham International Airport. The indices reflect our comfort — or discomfort — related to heat and humidity and the danger of hot summer temperatures.

The heat report gathers the quantity 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 DPH in collaboration with the Carolina Center for Health Informatics in the UNC Department of Emergency Medicine.

Individuals should stay wary of signs of heat-related illness. Symptoms include muscle cramps, fatigue, weakness, dizziness, fainting, headaches, nausea and vomiting. Children, older individuals, 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 or air-conditioned places if spending extended time outside. 
  • Reduce normal activity levels. 
  • Speak with your physician about how to stay safe if you take medicines that make you more vulnerable to heat, such as tranquilizers or drugs for high blood pressure, migraines, allergies, muscle spasms and mental illness. 
  • Check on neighbors, and if working outdoors, check on your co-workers. 
  • Never leave children or pets unattended in vehicles, especially during warm or hot weather, as temperature levels inside a car can reach a lethal level in a matter of minutes.

High heat days may also 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://xapps.ncdenr.org/aq/ForecastCenterEnvista.

There is also cooling assistance through the Division of Social Services and the Division of Again and Adult Services for those eligible.

The Crisis Intervention Program is a Federally funded program that assists individuals and families who are experiencing a heating or cooling related crisis. Individuals can check eligibility and apply by contacting their local Department of Social Services until June 30, 2020.

Operation Fan and Heat Relief, a summer program intended to provide a more comfortable living environment and reduce heat related illnesses for older adults and adults with disabilities, runs through Oct. 31. Individuals can get more information from their local Area Agencies on Aging.

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, go to https://publichealth.nc.gov/chronicdiseaseandinjury/heat.htm

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