Heat Stroke Risk Rises With Energy Woes. Part 2

The CDC says more people die from hot weather than from hurricanes, lightning, tornadoes, floods, and earthquakes put together. Between 1979 and 1998, a total of 7,421 deaths in the United States were heat-related, the government says, and about 300 people die each year from heat exposure.

Kids under the age of 4 and people over the age of 65 are particularly at risk from heat exposure, the CDC says. Heat stroke and heat exhaustion are the two most common problems of excessive heat exposure.

Heat stroke results when the body becomes unable to control its own temperature. Excessive heat causes the organism’s temperature to rise quickly, the sweating mechanism fails, and the body is unable to cool down.

Heat exhaustion is the body’s response to an excessive loss of water and salt contained in sweat. The most common symptoms of heat exhaustion are heavy sweating. muscle cramps, dizziness, nausea or vomiting and fainting.

San Bernardino also provides some funds to help seniors and low-income people pay those utility bills, says Charles Adams, deputy director the county’s Community Services department. “It’s a credit to the gas or electric bill that we pay directly to the utility,” Adams describes. “It’s a pretty elaborate formula and varies from individual to individual.”

The county provided additional funds for the program this year, Adams says, “but there’s just not enough funding. We are doing the best we can and it’s a greatly appreciated program. These senior citizens and low-income people often have to make some very difficult decisions on how to divide up their income.”

Arizona officials say they don’t expect to have a problem with heat exposure this year. “We don’t have the same problem as other states do,” says Norm Peterson, Arizona’s state epidemiologist in Phoenix. “We’ve had a few excess deaths from heat stroke,” although that typically happens when people are in the desert too long without protection, he adds. The state has seen a spate of heat-related deaths among people crossing the border from Mexico.

Moreover, Peterson says, “energy problems haven’t hit Arizona yet. We have an adequate supply of electricity.”

“I haven’t heard of any real concerns or issues,” agrees Becky Brooks, the interim deputy director of Yuma County’s Health Department in Yuma, Ariz. “There’s been no real increase in energy pricing here. Our usual summer rates for electricity range anywhere from $200 to $400 a month, and so most people are quite used to that.”

What To Do
If you’re going to be in the summer heat, drink a lot of liquids but avoid alcohol or drinks with caffeine or a lot of sugar, the CDC advises. Wear light-colored, loose-fitting clothing and stay indoors with the air conditioning on.

If your home does not have air conditioning, go to the shopping mall or public library; even a few hours spent in air conditioning can help your body stay cooler when you go back into the heat. Call your local health department to see whether there are any heat-relief shelters in your area.

If a neighbor or loved one is elderly, check on her every so often during heat waves. A 1995 scorcher killed more than 600 people in greater Chicago; many of the victims were older people who lived alone and without air conditioning.

Be extra careful if you take diuretics, which can be found in blood-pressure and some other generic pills. They tend to take salt out of your body, which can be a problem when you’re sweating and not replenishing what you’ve lost. Drinks with electrolytes (such as Gatorade) can help.