Hot weather increases risk of heat-related health issues across Wisconsin

Forecasted high temperatures are expected to exceed 90 degrees in many Wisconsin locations,...
Forecasted high temperatures are expected to exceed 90 degrees in many Wisconsin locations, approaching record-setting marks in some areas of the state.(KMVT)
Updated: Jun. 3, 2021 at 9:00 AM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WEAU) - Public health safety officials and meteorologists are warning the public about the risk of heat-related illnesses or death as temperatures rise this summer across Wisconsin.

Forecasted high temperatures are expected to exceed 90 degrees in many Wisconsin locations, approaching record-setting marks in some areas of the state in early June. In recognition of Heat Awareness Day this week, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services is reminding residents of the state to be careful as the temperatures increase.

“Wisconsinites need to be on alert for extremely warm days and proactively take steps to ensure their safety,” Dr. Jon Meiman, chief medical officer of the Bureau of Environmental and Occupational Health, said.

According to the Wisconsin DHS, 689 people visited emergency rooms around the state with heat-related illness in 2020. 67 of those people were hospitalized, and seven people died. The most common age group to make emergency room visits was people ages 15 to 34, while people ages 65 and over were most frequently hospitalized.

A graphic showing safe practices for hot weather, provided by the National Weather Service.
The National Weather Service is reminding people to practice heat safety this summer.(National Weather Service)

The National Weather Service says that heat is one of the largest causes of weather-related death in the United States, with hundreds of fatalities each year. Certain age groups are more vulnerable to heat-related illness and death, including:

  • Young children and infants are particularly vulnerable to heat-related illness and death, as their bodies are less able to adapt to heat than are adults.
  • Older adults, particularly those with pre existing diseases, take certain medications, are living alone or with limited mobility who are exposed to extreme heat can experience multiple adverse effects.
  • People with chronic medical conditions are more likely to have a serious health problem during a heat wave than healthy people.
  • Pregnant women are also at higher risk. Extreme heat events have been associated with adverse birth outcomes such as low birth weight, preterm birth, and infant mortality, as well as congenital cataracts.

In addition to these vulnerable groups, the NWS in La Crosse adds that people who work outside are also considered at risk of heat-related illness or death, noting that 11 people have died in its coverage area in western Wisconsin, southeastern Minnesota, and northeastern Iowa since 2000.

Locked vehicles are another area of concern. The NWS says that 24 children died in hot cars in 2020 and one has already died in 2021. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says that a record number of hot car deaths occurred in 2018 and 2019, when 53 children died each year.

Pets are also vulnerable in hot weather. The Humane Society of the United States says that basic summer safety tips include not leaving pets in parked vehicles, monitoring the humidity and temperature of the times that you are outside with your pet, provide shade and water on hot days, limit exercise if the weather is unfavorable, and to watch for signs of heatstroke. It is also recommended that pet owners do not rely on electronics or fans to keep pets cool, and to be prepared in the event of a power outage.

Extreme heat is defined as temperatures that exceed 10 degrees of the average high temperature for the area. Heat combined with high humidity levels increases the risk of heat-related illness or death. The Wisconsin DHS offers these prevention tips for dealing with heat-related risks this summer in Wisconsin:

  • Drink lots of water: To avoid dehydration, a conscious effort should be made to drink more fluids during hot weather. Rapid weight loss may be a sign of dehydration. Don’t drink liquids that contain caffeine, alcohol, or large amounts of sugar—these actually cause you to lose more body fluid.
  • Check on your neighbors: Make frequent checks on the status of elderly or ill relatives or neighbors that may live alone. If necessary, move them to an air-conditioned environment during the hottest part of the day.
  • Never leave people or pets in a parked car: Do not leave anyone—children, individuals with disabilities, older adults, pets—in cars for even brief periods. Temperatures can rise to life-threatening levels in a matter of minutes.

The DHS says that if you experience dizziness, headaches, muscle cramps, weakness, nausea, or vomiting, find a way to cool off or get help. If you experience hot, dry skin, confusion, unconsciousness, chest pains, or shortness of breath, call 911.

For more heat safety tips and prevention topics, you can visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention heat-related illness website here.

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