‘Silent killer’ heat is topic of June 27 Ready U eventWritten by Sarah Ottney | Managing Editor | firstname.lastname@example.org
They’re not announced by sirens, dark skies or funnel clouds, but heat waves can be just as dangerous as more visible weather events, local health experts say.
“A heat wave can be a silent killer,” said Emilie Owens, emergency coordinator and vice president of nutrition and wellness at the Area Office on Aging (AOoA). “Heat is less dramatic and less apparent, especially at the beginning, so people don’t know they are in trouble. A lot of people don’t realize how dangerous the heat is.”
More people die in the United States each year from extreme heat and humidity than any other natural weather event, Owens said. Children and the elderly are the two most vulnerable groups.
Owens will co-present “Heat — It’s a Killer,” the next session in the Ready U series, along with Lindsay Wiemken, pediatric injury prevention specialist at Toledo Children’s Hospital. Owens will discuss heat dangers for seniors while Wiemken will discuss the dangers for children.
The free event is set for 7 p.m. June 27 at Secor Metro Park’s National Center for Nature Photography, 10001 W. Central Ave.
Ready U, a 10-session series presented by the Red Cross of Greater Toledo and the Lucas County EMA, is designed to educate the public and prepare individuals and families for potential emergencies in Northwest Ohio.
Children are at risk because their body temperature can rise three to five times faster than an adult’s, meaning the shift from heat exhaustion to heat stroke, or hyperthermia, can happen within minutes, Wiemken said.
Last year, 49 children in the U.S. died of hyperthermia inside a car, Wiemken said. Sometimes children are forgotten in the back seat, but others are left alone “just for a minute” while a parent runs in a store or they are playing around the car and accidently lock themselves inside.
“Within 20 minutes, the temperature inside a car can rise as much as 29 degrees, so even on a cloudy 80 degree day, it can go from 80 to 109 in 20 minutes,” Wiemken said. “At 104 degrees, your organs begin shutting down.”
Seniors are at risk because of decreased lung capacity, medication that dehydrates them or a natural decrease in awareness of thirst, Owens said. They may not turn on air conditioning because of the cost or they may not want to bother family members to ask for help.
“They just want to manage and that’s where they get in trouble,” Owens said. “We just caution the public to look out for older adults who live alone.”
One of the worst incidents of heat-related deaths was during a 1995 Chicago heat wave that killed 750 people, many of them elderly people who lived alone.
“Most major cities now have heat emergency plans as a result of that,” Owens said. “It’s hard to believe that could happen here in the U.S.”
Local senior centers offer their buildings as “cooling centers” on hot days, Owens said. Seniors without air conditioning should go there or another cool place, such as a library or shopping center.
Symptoms of heat exhaustion include blurred vision, clammy skin or feeling sick to the stomach, Owens said. The person should get to a cool area and drink water, put a wet cloth on his or her neck or take a tepid shower.
Symptoms of hyperthermia include elevated body temperature, rapid heartbeat and dry or red skin. The person may be agitated or confused and seizures are possible. Hyperthermia can be life-threatening and medical attention should be sought immediately, Owens said.
Owens said she hopes the session helps people learn to recognize danger signs and act quickly.
“Don’t ignore it,” Owens said. “Heat exhaustion is a very easy thing to reverse in the early stages, but if no one knows you’re in trouble it can easily and quickly slip into heat stroke and death. That doesn’t have to happen with all the help available.”
Attendees will receive reusable grocery bags. Raffle prizes will include a gift card from The Andersons and a 5-gallon bucket, said Sheri Meeker, community disaster education specialist for the Red Cross.
13abc’s Stan Stachak will host the session. Toledo Free Press is a media sponsor for the Ready U program.
For more information, visit the website ready-u.com.