Section General Public Health urges vigilance for heat stress

POSTED: 06/20/12 12:05 PM

St. Maarten – Section General Public Health (SGPH) observes that for several weeks it has been very warm and it could get warmer heading into July and August. The department is thus calling on the community to closely friends, family members and co-workers monitor for heat stress and to minimize their exposure risk.

The Climate Change and Adaptation Strategies for Human Health project believes that the effects of climate change may exacerbate the threats to human health posed by thermal stress. One heat-wave does not prove that the world is getting hotter, but scientists have noticed a trend in different parts of the world that have seen previous records broken with increasing regularity leading to heath-induced human deaths.

Heat-related illnesses occur as a result of heat exposure. Hot conditions put your body under a lot of stress. Physical activity stresses the body even more. When heat is combined with physical activity, loss of fluids, fatigue and other conditions can lead to a number of heat-related illnesses and injuries. Death is even possible.

Certain individuals, such as the elderly (people 65+ years of age), infants and young children up to four years of age, the obese, and those with chronic medical conditions are at increased risk for developing heat-related illness.

The six main factors involved in causing heat stress are: high temperatures; humidity; lack in movement of air; radiant temperature of the surroundings; heavy clothing; and physical activity.

To reduce the possibility of heat stress, you can use air-conditioning, fans to circulate the air and reduce physical activity; increase the frequency and duration of rest breaks; and schedule tasks to avoid heavy physical activity during the hottest parts of the day. Drinking cold water regularly, wearing lightweight clothing which allows moisture to evaporate quickly, rehydration and using sunscreen will also reduce risk.

Knowing what to look out for in heat stress is important to avoid life threatening situations.  Serious heat stress conditions cause the victim to become disoriented and unaware of their condition. The major heat stress injuries and illnesses are: heat rash (on the skin, a bumpy rash which itches severely); heat cramps (painful muscle cramps caused by a loss of salt through excessive sweating); heat syncope (sudden fainting); heat exhaustion (as a result of inadequate salt and water intake); heat stroke (the deadliest of all heat stress conditions, the victim’s skin is hot, red and dry, their pulse is fast and may complain of headache or dizziness).

For further information you should consult with your family physician or call Section General Public Health at telephone number: 542-3553, 542-2078.

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