News

Take precautions against the potential health dangers posed by the heatwave

Important to prevent yourself from overheating says expert

Tuesday, January 5 2016

With heatwave conditions expected to continue across vast areas of South Africa during the coming week, emergency services provider Netcare 911 has warned people to take precautions against the potential health dangers posed by the heat.

According to Shalen Ramduth, general manager: operations at Netcare 911, dehydration, hyperthermia, heatstroke or heat exhaustion can pose a very real threat, particularly to vulnerable children and elderly individuals, and he urged South Africans to safeguard themselves against overheating in the current conditions.

“It has been a particularly hot summer holiday with Netcare 911 having to attend to a number of heat exhaustion and heat stroke cases across much of the country. According to the Weather Service of South Africa, these conditions are likely to continue at least until Thursday, with temperatures rising into the higher thirties.

“We urge people to be cautious when undertaking strenuous physical activities outdoors in the current weather conditions and to protect their children who are more susceptible to suffering heat exhaustion. The elderly should also be particularly vigilant, especially those suffering from medical conditions such as epilepsy and high-blood pressure. Babies, children, elderly people and pets should not be left unattended in vehicles as they can rapidly dehydrate. ”

“Many people are still on holiday, and may go out on a walk or hike at the hottest time of the day without sufficient water or sun protection. They underestimate the power of the sun and further aggravate their risk by not staying sufficiently hydrated. In conditions such as we are currently experiencing, people should try to drink at least two litres of water a day,” advises Ramduth.

Athletes, those taking certain medication and outdoor workers may also be particularly at risk of developing heatstroke, he observes. The condition can also be a threat to those undertaking vigorous work in warm indoor environments without the appropriate ventilation.

He explains that heatstroke occurs when the human body’s core temperature increases beyond 40 degrees Celsius. The condition can be fatal if not treated properly and promptly, he warns. Heatstroke can cause an individual to slip into a coma and suffer organ failure. 

The body generates heat but is usually able to dissipate this by radiation via the skin or through the evaporation of sweat on the skin. In extremely hot or humid environments and in cases where people overexert themselves, the body may not be able to get rid of the heat fast enough and an individual may suffer hyperthermia which, is an abnormally elevated body temperature. Dehydration may be another cause of hyperthermia.

Heat exhaustion and heatstroke are forms of hyperthermia. Sometimes an individual will suffer from heat exhaustion which progresses to heatstroke, while other individuals may develop heatstroke rapidly and without warning.

Ramduth says heatstroke should be treated as a medical emergency and emergency medical services should be contacted if you suspect that someone is suffering from the condition. It is vital to attempt to get the patient’s body temperature down in order to try and prevent the potential for organ damage.

The first thing to do is to move the individual out of the sun and into the shade. You can remove their clothing and if possible place them in a bathtub filled with cool or tepid water if they are conscious. Do not use very cold water as it can prevent heat escaping the body core. Be sure to keep a close eye on when a patient is placed in a bath to make sure he or she does not lose consciousness.

Alternatively, the patient may be hosed with cool water from a garden hose or wiped down using a cool, wet cloth. They may be fanned to encourage evaporation on and cooling of the skin. It is also vital to give the victim - drinking water or, even better, isotonic drinks containing electrolytes. If they cannot take any liquids orally, intravenous hydration by means of a drip is necessary.

Signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion include: nausea; headache, vomiting, fatigue, muscle cramps and aches and dizziness. The symptoms of heatstroke may differ from person to person and they may include those of heat exhaustion as well as the following: high body temperature; dry flushed skin with an absence of sweating; rapid pulse; trouble breathing; bewilderment and confusion; unusual and sometimes aggressive behaviour; seizures and losing consciousness. If any of these symptoms are noted it is advisable to seek medical assistance as soon as possible.

Netcare 911 offers the following important tips to members of the public to assist in coping with the high temperatures currently being experienced:

  • Try to avoid any strenuous physical activity in the heat or in hot, humid conditions.
  • Avoid exposure to the sun in the middle of the day, when the UV intensity is at its most intense.
  • Make sure that you stay hydrated by drinking sufficient fluids such as water and sports drinks. However, do not overdo your drinking, as it is also possible to over-hydrate. You should not feel bloated after drinking fluids. Drink small amounts at regular intervals.
  • Avoid drinks that may dehydrate you further, such as alcohol, fizzy colas, tea and coffee.
  • Wear wrap-around UV protective sunglasses and a wide brimmed sun hat.
  • Apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen of sun protection factor (SPF) 15+ liberally on areas of the body not protected by clothing. Reapply frequently.
  • Take care to ensure that babies and children are well protected and kept cool.
  • Avoid exposure to the sun during pregnancy.
  • Avoid excessive exposure to the sun whilst swimming or engaging in other water related activities.
  • Check that medication being taken will not affect sensitivity to heat.
  • Do not leave anyone, especially babies, small children or the elderly in a locked car, not even for a few minutes, as the temperature inside a car can rise to exceptionally high levels within a very short period.

Ramduth said that if outdoor activities were planned with care and the sun paid its due respect, all South Africans should enjoy a summer free from problems related to excessive heat.

Ends

Issued by:           Martina Nicholson Associates (MNA) on behalf of Netcare 911

Contact :              Martina Nicholson, Graeme Swinney, Devereaux Morkel or Meggan Saville

Telephone:         (011) 469 3016

Email:                   martina@mnapr.co.za, graeme@mnapr.co.za, devereaux@mnapr.co.za or meggan@mnapr.co.za or meggan@mnapr.co.za