This week, portions of the state have experienced excessive heat and humidity prompting advisories and warnings to be issued. Temperatures have reached the mid- to upper 90s, and are expected to be near 100 degrees this weekend. The heat index, describing how the temperature feels to the human body, may be in excess of 110 degrees.
These conditions are dangerous to any person outdoors, and especially so for older adults, young children, and people with existing medical conditions, such as heart disease. Heat-related illnesses can also impact those with outdoor jobs or individuals participating in recreational activities, most notably during the hottest times of the day.
Heat-related illness occurs when body temperature rises faster than the body can cool itself. The Virginia Department of Health advises the best way to avoid heat injury is prevention.
“Every year, more than 600 people in the U.S. die of heat-related illness, and many others experience hospitalization, so it is imperative to ensure that all Virginians take the necessary precautions to avoid heat injury,” said State Health Commissioner Colin M. Greene, MD, MPH. “With two more months of summer remaining, it is important the public understands the steps that can be taken to protect themselves and others.
The first step is to look at the weather forecast and plan accordingly. For extreme heat, the best prevention is to remain indoors in an air-conditioned location. If you must be outdoors, avoid the afternoon hours, seek shade, and limit physical activity to a minimum.
Drink water or sports drinks at least once an hour; don’t wait to be thirsty. Take frequent rest breaks in the shade and wear loose-fitting, light-colored, lightweight clothing.”
It is crucial to recognize the warning signs of heat illness.
Heat Cramps: Heavy sweating and painful, involuntary muscle spasms. Move to a cool area until symptoms resolve; consider ceasing outdoor activity for a period of time.
Heat Exhaustion: Heavy sweating; pale, cool clammy skin; muscle cramps; fatigue; weakness; dizziness; headache; nausea or vomiting and fainting. Seek a cool area right away; cease outdoor activity for the day.
Heat Stroke: A high body temperature (103 degrees or higher); warm and dry skin; fast pulse; headache; dizziness; nausea; confusion and unconsciousness. This is a medical emergency. Take measures to rapidly cool the person while dialing 911.
For more information, visit the Virginia Department of Health website at: www.vdh.virginia.gov/news/extreme-heat-and-heat-related-illnesses. Additional resources are available for severe weather preparedness and safety information. In addition, the VDH Office of Epidemiology has a surveillance dashboard to monitor emergency department and urgent care visits for heat-related illness.