Summers in Wisconsin are known for long, sun-filled days spent outdoors. However, the sun can become too powerful for human bodies, resulting in heat-related illnesses. These illnesses are some of the most dangerous weather-related conditions that occur during the peak heat months of July and August. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), each year an average of about 658 people succumb to extreme heat, despite the fact that all heat-related deaths and illnesses are preventable (Heat-Related Illness, 2017).
Heat syncope, heat exhaustion and heat stroke are among the most severe and fatal heat-related illnesses.
WHA Information Center data from 2020 shows patients aged 60-80 years old had the highest visit counts due to a heat-related illness. The average age of patients suffering heat-related illness that year was 60. Those aged 61-70 years old had the largest total charge amount of any age group. Males accounted for 59% of all heat-related visits that year. Dane County registered the highest visit counts for heat-related illnesses.
The CDC also notes that extreme heat causes more deaths each year than hurricanes, lightning, tornadoes, earthquakes and floods combined (CDC Climate Change and Extreme Heat Infographic). At-risk individuals include those 65 or older, children under the age of four, people without air conditioning and people with existing medical conditions like heart disease.
The CDC recommends the following the following safety practices to prevent heat-related illness:
- During heat waves, frequently check on people at risk for heat-related death, such as the elderly and disabled or homebound people.
- Never leave children alone in cars, and ensure that children cannot lock themselves in an enclosed space, such as a car trunk.
- Limit sun exposure during midday hours and in places of potential severe exposure, such as beaches or lakes.
- Drink plenty of nonalcoholic fluids, and replace the body’s salts and minerals, which sweating can release. Do not take salt tablets unless under medical supervision.
- Dress infants and children in cool, loose clothing and shade their heads and faces from the sun with hats or an umbrella.
- Provide plenty of fresh water for pets, and leave the water in a shady area.