Extreme heatwaves lead to a more than 10 per cent increase in both deaths and ambulance callouts, according to a long-term study by NSW Health.
NSW Health’s Director of Environmental Health and co-author of the study, Dr Ben Scalley, said with the start of summer it is important people take heatwaves seriously.
“Prolonged periods of very hot weather can be dangerous because hot weather can overheat the human body, leading to a range of serious illnesses,” Dr Scalley said.
“Certain groups of people are particularly vulnerable, including older people, infants and children, people with a chronic medical condition and those who live alone.
“During hot weather, it’s important to stay in regular contact with elderly neighbours, friends and relatives and to look out for other vulnerable members of their community.”
The study, published in the International Journal of Biometeorology, analysed the health effects of heat events from 2005-2015 and their impact on mortality, hospitalisations and ambulance call-outs.
Dr Scalley said the study showed extreme heatwaves are associated with a 10.8 per cent increase in deaths, a 3.4 per cent increase in hospital presentations and 10.9 per cent hike in ambulance call-outs.
“The increases in all three measures were seen across metropolitan, regional and rural areas across the state,” Dr Scalley said.
The results of the study support several recent international studies that have linked heatwaves with significant impacts on human health and mortality.
Dr Scalley said the following simple precautions will help minimise the risk of heat-related illness:
- drink plenty of water, and remember to carry some with you when out and about
- avoid alcoholic, hot or sugary drinks
- plan your day around the heat, particularly in the middle of the day, and minimise physical activity
- keep the sun out by shading windows with curtains, blinds or closing shutters
- keep windows closed during the day until it cools down and in early morning
- if you don’t have an air-conditioner, try to spend time in an air-conditioned place like a shopping centre, library or cinema
- wear light, loose-fitting clothing
- when outdoors, stay protected from the sun by wearing a hat and sunscreen.
For more information, visit the NSW Health beat the heat website: http://www.health.nsw.gov.au/environment/beattheheat/Pages/default.aspx
NSW Health’s study: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00484-017-1313-5