Guide for health checks during extreme heat published by British Columbia officials

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The provincial health authority and the BC Center for Disease Control released a guide for conducting remote and in-person health checks during extreme heat waves.

For people susceptible to heat-related illnesses, continuous indoor temperatures of 26C pose a health risk, while indoor temperatures around 31C can be dangerous, according to a press release.

If a person shows signs of serious heat-related illness, it’s time to call 911 and use emergency cooling measures, according to the guide. It is also important to stay with someone who has severe heat illness until emergency services arrive.

Symptoms of serious heat-related illnesses include:

• Fainting or loss of consciousness

• Confusion or disorientation

• Severe nausea or vomiting

• Difficulty speaking

• Unusual coordination problems

• Hot and red or very pale skin

• Does not sweat

• Rapid breathing and low but rapid heart rate

• Internal body temperature of 39°C or higher

• Very weak and dark urine production

Emergency cooling measures include lying a person down in a cooler area (if possible), removing excess clothing, offering water, and applying cool, wet towels or ice packs around a person’s body while waiting for emergency services.

Mild symptoms of heat-related illnesses include dizziness, irritability, fatigue, thirst, and increased resting heart rate. According to the guide, a person’s skin may feel warm and clammy and their urine output may be reduced.

If a person’s internal temperature is 38°C or higher, their heat-related illness has progressed to moderate severity.

If a person has moderate heat illness, they may experience a rash or swelling, weakness, difficulty swallowing, and worsening symptoms of mild heat illness.

When someone is suffering from mild to moderate heat illness, encourage them to sit down and drink water and try to place them in an air-conditioned area or with several open windows to create a cross breeze .

The guide also recommends using the same cooling measures used for serious heat-related illnesses and calling 911 if symptoms do not go away or worsen after trying to cool the person.

Checking in with someone who may be sensitive twice a day is a good tool for preventing heat-related illnesses, BC CDC Scientific Director Sarah Henderson said in the release.

“Many sensitive people may not recognize when they are overheating, but another person can help identify a risky situation with a few careful questions and observations.”

According to the guide’s checklist, people who are at higher risk for heat-related illnesses include:

• People aged 60 or over

• People with mental illness or cognitive disorders, such as dementia or mood disorders such as depression

• People with chronic conditions, such as heart disease or diabetes

• People living alone or socially isolated

• People who suffer from addiction or substance use, including drugs and alcohol

• People with reduced mobility, who may have difficulty taking protective measures

• People taking prescription drugs

• People with poor physical shape

In a June interview with Black Press Media, Henderson advised checking with a pharmacist to find out if your medications may affect heat tolerance.

Remote health checks are not ideal, but better than no health check. For remote health checks, you need the person’s emergency address, contact details for their next of kin, and information on the risk of heat-related illness.

The complete guide, with all the checklists and symptoms of heat-related illnesses of different levels, is available online: ncceh.ca/documents/guide/health-checks-during-extreme-heat-events.

The National Collaborating Center for Environmental Health led the development of the guide, alongside the environmental physiology research team of Professor Glen Kenny of the University of Ottawa.

Health and well-being

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