State Health Commissioner Advises Precautionary Measures as Sweltering Heat Grips the State

Infants, Elderly, People With Chronic Illness at Greatest Risk

Albany, August 15, 2002 – As temperatures continue to hover in the mid– to high 90s across much of the State with no immediate relief in sight, State Health Commissioner Antonia C. Novello, M.D., M.P.H., Dr.P.H. is urging New Yorkers to stay out of the heat or, if they must venture out into the sweltering conditions, to take steps to avoid the potentially deadly consequences.

"Summer is a wonderful time for New Yorkers but we need to protect ourselves from the dangers that are inherent during the summer season. And heat–related illness is one of those dangers," said Dr. Novello. "New York is a fabulous place to enjoy the great outdoors and all of the wonderful activities summer has to offer. However, everyone must take precautions in the extreme temperatures we've had the last several days and which are forecast for the rest of the week."

Dr. Novello said that the elderly, infants, young children, people who have mental illness and those who are physically ill are at the highest risk.

Common forms of heat–related illness are heat stroke (or sunstroke), heat exhaustion and heat cramps. Heat stroke is the most serious heat–related illness and is accompanied by hot, dry skin; shallow breathing; a rapid, weak pulse; and confusion. Heat stroke occurs when a person's body temperature exceeds 105 degrees Fahrenheit and could render the victim unconscious. If you believe that someone has heat stroke, call for emergency medical treatment or have the person taken to the hospital immediately. While waiting for emergency personnel, move the victim to a cool area out of direct sunlight; sponge bathe with cool water; and fan. If possible, relocate the person to an air–conditioned room.

Heat exhaustion is characterized by heavy sweating, weakness and cold, pale, clammy skin. There may be fainting and vomiting. If someone appears to be suffering from heat exhaustion, they should be moved to a cool area out of direct sunlight, sponge bathed with cool water and fanned. Also, give sips of water to the individual every 15 minutes for one hour.

Heat cramps are characterized by painful spasms, usually in muscles of the legs and abdomen and by heavy sweating. To relieve heat cramps, apply firm pressure on cramping muscles or gently massage the muscles. And as in the case of heat exhaustion, give sips of water every 15 minutes for one hour.

To ensure a safe rest of the summer, Dr. Novello recommends these preventive measures to beat the heat:

  • Drink more fluids (nonalcoholic), regardless of your activity level. Don't wait until you're thirsty to drink. If you must exercise, drink two to four glasses of cool, nonalcoholic fluids each hour. A sports beverage can replace the salt and minerals you lose in sweat.
  • Don't drink liquids that contain caffeine, alcohol or large amounts of sugar – these actually cause you to lose more body fluid. Also, avoid very cold drinks, because they can cause stomach cramps.
  • Stay indoors, ideally, in an air–conditioned place. If your house or apartment isn't air–conditioned, try spending a few hours at the shopping mall, public library or even the grocery store. A few hours spent in air conditioning can help your body stay cooler when you go back into the heat.
  • Take a cool shower or bath and reduce or eliminate strenuous activities during the hottest time of the day.
  • Wear lightweight, light–colored, loose–fitting clothing to reflect heat and sunlight.
  • Protect yourself from the sun by wearing a wide–brimmed hat (also keeps you cooler) and sunglasses and by putting on sunscreen of SPF 15 or higher.
  • NEVER leave anyone – a person or animal – in a closed, parked vehicle. This can be life threatening.
  • Neighbors should check on elderly residents in their area or apartment complex to make sure they are safe.
  • Although anyone at any time can suffer from heat–related illness, some people are at greater risk than others. Check regularly on infants and young children; people aged 65 or older; people who have a mental illness and those who are physically ill, especially with heart disease or high blood pressure. Individuals with chronic respiratory illnesses such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary may find that their conditions worsen during periods of high heat and humidity.

8/15/02–85 OPA