Maine CDC Press Release

June 20, 2012

The First of Summer’s Heat Prompts Heat Health Advisory

In response to a heat advisory issued today by the National Weather Service for parts of Maine for Wednesday, the Maine Center for Disease Control is advising Maine citizens to protect themselves, their families, and neighbors from heat illness.

"We are most concerned about Maine’s senior citizens, especially those who live alone, because they are more likely to have serious health problems when it is hot out," said Dr. Stephen Sears, state epidemiologist. Elderly people do not cope as well as young people to sudden changes in temperature. They are more likely to have medical conditions that limit normal body responses to heat. And they are more like to take prescription medicines that impair the body's ability to respond to heat.
In the U.S. more people die from heat than from all other weather events combined. Heat-related illnesses happen when the body cannot cool itself. Some heat illnesses are mild, like heat rash, sun burn, and heat cramps. Others like heat exhaustion, dehydration, and heat stroke can be severe or even life-threatening.

"The best way to prevent heat illnesses is to spend time in air conditioned buildings,” Dr. Sears said. “If you know an older person living alone, it’s a good idea to check on them at least twice a day and to take them to an air-conditioned location if they can’t drive themselves. Encourage them to drink more fluids than normal, but check with their doctor first if they take water pills or have fluid intake limits. Watch for signs of serious illness."

Signs of serious heat illness include dry, hot, red skin; a rapid pulse; a high body temperature; headache; nausea; confusion or loss of alertness; rapid breathing; unconsciousness or coma. If you notice someone with these signs, call 911 immediately and move the person out of the sun, loosen their clothes, and cool them rapidly with ice, fans, cold water, or wet cloths. Other people at-risk for serious health effects due to heat include: infants and young children, as well as people who work, play or exercise outside, have chronic health issues, or have trouble caring for themselves.

The best defense against heat-related illness is prevention.

How to Prevent Heat Illness:

  • Keep cool. Stay inside and out of the sun. Wear loose, lightweight, light-colored clothing. Spend time in air conditioned spaces – a public library, store, restaurant, movie theater, or cooling center. Use cold water to cool down; take a cold shower or bath.
  • Drink fluids. Drink more fluids even if you are not very active. Avoid alcohol, caffeine, and sugary drinks. Warning: Check with your doctor if you take water pills or have fluid intake limits.
  • Lie low. Take regular breaks from physical activity--at least every hour. Avoid strenuous activity during the hottest part of the day (between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m.).
  • Limit activity and protect yourself if you must be outside. Reduce your activity level. If possible, limit your activity to the cooler hours of the day, after first checking to make sure there aren’t any air quality alerts about exercising at these times. If you work outdoors or in a hot place, drink one cup (8 ounces) of cool, non-alcoholic fluids every 20 minutes. Take frequent rest breaks in shady or air conditioned places.
  • Look out for others who may be vulnerable. People most likely to have serious health problems due to heat include: elderly people, those who live alone, infants and young children, people who work or exercise outside, and those who have chronic health issues or trouble caring for themselves. Check a few times a day on neighbors, friends, and family who may be more susceptible to the heat.

For more heat health information: www.maine.gov/dhhs/mecdc/environmental-health/heat/