Question of the Week

July 21, 2003


SARS. West Nile Virus. Norwalk (remember, that cruise ship virus?). A threat in the form of a virus makes the news. A virus is something we can try to avoid. A virus is something scientists can study and doctors can identify. Wash your hands. Prevent mosquito bites. Avoid exposure. But what can be done about an unseen presence that settles over an area?

"Checking on her mother one morning at the Rose Plaza apartments during Houston's fierce 1998 heat wave, Gloria Mills unlocked the door and screamed. The room was a furnace. Leola Brown, 73, lay crumpled on the floor with a body temperature of 108 degrees. Emergency-room doctors revived her by bathing her in ice, but the resilient mother of seven daughters never fully recovered. Five years later, she remains bedridden.... With the National Weather Service's issuing a hot-weather warning Friday, some predict a tough summer ahead.... Faced with a different summertime problem last year, Houston and Harris County health officials kept West Nile virus fatalities to a minimum with a public education campaign, close monitoring of hospital admissions and $3.6 million spent on mosquito control. By contrast, critics say, no coordinated effort exists to combat heat deaths...."

There can be no vaccine to prevent heat. What would an "effort" to "combat heat deaths" consist of?

"PHOENIX, July 18 [2003] ...On Monday, the temperature here soared to 116 degrees, a record for the date. Overnight into Tuesday morning, it dropped to only 96 degrees, making that the hottest night in Phoenix history. On Wednesday, the high was 117, the hottest of the year so far and one degree short of the city's record for that date, set in 1925. There has been more of the same since....So how hot was it this week? It was so hot that
rubber flip-flop sandals stuck to the asphalt at street crossings. It was so hot that a woman who fainted and fell face first on a sidewalk was rushed to a burn unit, her skin scalded by the searing pavement."

But it's the weather. Does that mean there's nothing that can be done? There has to be something people can do to prevent (or at least reduce the risk) of illness and death from this health threat.

"'Doing too much on a hot day, spending too much time in the sun or staying too long in an overheated place can cause heat-related illnesses and possibly death,' FEMA Director James Lee Witt said. 'Special care should be taken to protect the elderly, young children and those with respiratory ailments. All residents should be aware of heat disorder symptoms, know where to seek help, and be ready to give first aid treatment.'...
AILMENTS CAUSED BY SEVERE EXPOSURE TO THE SUN OR HEAT INCLUDE: Sunburn... Heat Cramps... Heat Exhaustion... Heat Stroke (Sun Stroke)..."

Okay, so you know that you'll make good choices for yourself. You'll watch for the signs of possible problems, and you'll do what you need to do to be careful on hot days. What about your friends? Siblings? Relatives? Is
there anything you can do for them?

"The heat wave of 1995 contributed to more than 700 Chicago-area deaths. While city officials said they‚ve learned many lessons about helping elderly and other vulnerable residents handle the heat, Mayor Richard M. Daley said people have to take responsibility for checking up on loved ones. 'Why don‚t family members check on other family members and parents?' Daley said. 'Why are they calling the city to do that? That is the most frustrating thing in any crisis.'"

Questions of the Week:
What do you need to know so that you can detect the signs of heat related ailments in yourself, your friends, and your family? What preventative actions can you take? What should you do if you notice symptoms? Are there those in your community that you don't see regularly but that might need
help when temperatures rise? What can you do to help keep them safe in the heat? How would you know if a problem did exist?

Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.

I look forward to reading what you have to say.

[email protected]
Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum

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