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Guide for health-checks during extreme heat released by B.C. officials

As B.C. gets out of its first heat wave of the summer, new guide gives insight to health checks
July 26, Environment Canada has issued heat warnings for 38 regions in the province. (Image: Environment Canada).

The province’s health authority and BC Center for Disease Control released a guide to doing remote and in-person health checks during extreme heat waves.

For people who are susceptible to heat-related illness, ongoing indoor temperatures of 26 C are a risk to health while indoor temperatures around 31 C can be dangerous, according to a news release.

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

Symptoms of severe heat-related illness are:

• Fainting or loss of consciousness

• Confusion or disorientation

• Severe nausea or vomiting

• Difficulty speaking

• Unusual co-ordination problems

• Hot and flushed or very pale skin

• Not sweating

• Rapid breathing and faint but rapid heart-rate

• Internal body temperature of 39 C or higher

• Very low and dark urine output

Emergency cooling measures involve laying 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 heat-related illness symptoms include dizziness, irritability, fatigue, thirst, and an increase in resting heart-rate. A person’s skin may feel warm and sweaty and they may have reduced urine output, according to the guide.

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

If someone has moderate heat-related illness, they may experience a heat rash or swelling, weakness, difficulty swallowing and worsened symptoms of mild heat-related illness.

When someone has mild-to-moderate heat-related illness, encourage them to sit upright and drink water and try to put them in a place with air conditioning or multiple open windows to create a cross-breeze.

The guide also recommends using the same cooling measures used for severe heat-related illness and calling 911 if symptoms do not go away or get worse after trying to cool the person down.

Checking in with a person who may be susceptible twice a day is a good tool to prevent heat-illness, BC CDC scientific director Sarah Henderson said in the statement.

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

According to the guide checklist, people who are at a higher risk for heat-related illness include:

• People aged 60 or older

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

• People with chronic disease(s), such as heart disease or diabetes

• People who live alone or are socially isolated

• People who experience substance dependence or use, including drugs and alcohol

• People with decreased mobility, who may find it difficult to take protective measures

• People who take some prescription medications

• People with poor physical fitness

In a June interview with Black Press Media, Henderson advised checking with a pharmacist to learn if your medication can affect heat tolerance.

Remote health-checks are not ideal, but better than no health-check. For remote health-checks, you need the person’s address in case of emergency, contact information for people close to them and information about the person’s risk of heat-related illness.

The full guide, with all checklists and symptoms of heat-related illnesses of different levels, is available online:

The National Collaborating Centre for Environmental Health took the lead developing the guide, alongside University of Ottawa professor Glen Kenny’s environmental physiology research team.

About the Author: Morgana Adby, Local Journalism Initiative

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