LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) -- The Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) is announcing the first reported death for an Arkansas resident from heat-related causes for 2012. No information about the individual, including age, place of death or gender, can be released due to medical privacy law.
According to Dirk Haselow, MD, PhD, director for the Communicable Disease branch, ADH, "Everyone is vulnerable when the temperatures and humidity stay so high for so long."
"We are especially concerned for the elderly, the very young, anyone with a chronic disease and anyone who is actively working or playing outside in this heat," Haselow said. "Those who are living inside without air conditioning are also at risk."
Hot temperatures and high humidity are a dangerous mix that contributes to illness and death each year. Seventeen Arkansans died due to heat-related illness in 2011. On average, there are 400 heat-related deaths a year in the U.S.
While the elderly, people with health problems, and very young children are the most vulnerable, heat can affect anyone-even strong, healthy athletes can be stricken. Our bodies are cooled primarily by losing heat through the skin and perspiration with evaporation. When our core body heat gain exceeds the amount we can get rid of the body's natural defense fails and heat-related illness may develop. The following heat disorders are progressive and should be attended to immediately:
• Heat cramps. These are prolonged muscle pains that result from severe salt and magnesium depletion due to heavy sweating. Treatment includes salt replacement, cooling down and gentle massage.
• Heat exhaustion. This is the most common illness caused by heat and often occurs while the person is working outside or attending outside events in extremely hot, humid weather. The victim may complain of weakness and feel faint. Other symptoms include dizziness, nausea, headache and confusion. The person should be moved to a cooler place, and wet cloths applied for cooling down. Fluid and salt should be replaced. Depending on the severity of the illness, hospitalization and intravenous fluid replacement may be necessary. This condition usually comes just before heat stroke.
• Heat stroke (also called sunstroke). This is a life-threatening condition in which the victim's temperature-control system stops working. Sweating is ineffective or stops completely, and the body's temperature can rise so high that the nervous system, the brain and other organs can be damaged permanently. Death may occur if the body is not cooled quickly. The symptoms of heat stroke include sudden high fever, dry skin, delirium, convulsions and seizures. Heat stroke is a medical emergency-call 911 and cool the person as fast as you can. Ice, a cold bath, and wet sheets are recommended until medical help arrives.
Those who work, exercise, or participate in strenuous activity, such as football practice, for an hour or more during intense heat may lose or sweat up to two quarts of water. If you must pursue intense activity during hot weather, follow these safety tips.
• Drink plenty of water; fluid replacement is crucial to avoid heat risks. Drink more water than usual before exercising or working in the heat. Schedule breaks with fluid replacement. If you are elderly or taking medication, ask your doctor about fluid intake recommendations.
• Schedule your strenuous activity during the coolest time of the day.
• Monitor how you feel. Watch for feelings of weakness, confusion and rapid breathing. If you have difficulty maintaining your regular pace, slow down.
• Wear a broad spectrum sunscreen of SPF 15 or higher to protect skin from sunburns and skin cancer.
Elderly people should avoid staying indoors during heat waves without using air conditioning. More than half of the 700 heat-related deaths in the 1995 Chicago heat wave could have been prevented with an air conditioner in the home, according to a published study. If you cannot afford an air conditioner for your home, spend more time in other air conditioned environments.
During the hot and dry weather in Arkansas, public water is high in demand. Many water systems in the state struggle to maintain normal tank levels in the face of heavy demand. However, the individual water customer can have the single greatest impact on a water system's ability to keep up with consumption. Wise use of water by individual customers can make a dramatic difference in whether shortages are experienced.
The following is a list of suggestions how homeowners can cut water usage.
• Water your lawn only when it needs it. Deep soak the lawn rather than sprinkling lightly which tends to evaporate quickly. Water during the cool part of the day such as early morning. Don't waste water on gutters, driveways, and sidewalks.
• Put a layer of mulch around trees and plants. Mulch will hold moisture longer and slow evaporation.
• Use automatic dishwashers and washing machines only with full loads.
• Don't let the faucet run when cleaning vegetables or washing dishes. Rinse them in a stoppered sink or pan of clean water. Similarly, don't let the water run when brushing your teeth or shaving. Keep a bottle of drinking water in the refrigerator. Running tap water to cool it off for drinking is wasteful.
• Check faucets, pipes, and toilets for drips or leaks.
• Install water-saving showerheads or flow restrictors.
By practicing good water conservation efforts and by adhering to heat-related illness prevention guidelines, Arkansans can stay healthy and safe during the hot, summer months.
For more information visit www.healthy.arkansas.gov.