Date Published: 7 February 2009
NSW Health urges continued caution this weekend
The Chief Health Officer for NSW, Dr Kerry Chant, said it was pleasing to see that communities across NSW had heeded warnings to take precautions during this weekend's heatwave.
However, Dr Chant said it is absolutely essential that everyone continues to take extra care because Sunday will present the biggest threat to public health during the current hot conditions.
"There has been quite a variance in the temperature range across the state today and in some parts of NSW, it could be tempting to think that the worst is over," Dr Chant said. "This isn't the case. The weather bureau advises that temperatures are going to rise further on Sunday. It will be the hottest day of the weekend, so it is essential that people again heed health warnings to protect themselves, their families, friends and neighbours."
So far this weekend, there has been a modest increase in the number of presentations to Emergency Departments for heat-related illness with six cases of heat stroke reported from our Emergency Department surveillance system. They occurred in the Northern Sydney Central Coast (2), Sydney West (2), Sydney South West (1) and Hunter New England (1) area health services.
NSW Ambulance has responded to 14 urgent heat-related call outs, the second-highest daily rate in 12 months. Those call outs occurred in Sydney West (6), Sydney South West (5) and South East Sydney-Illawarra (3) area health services.
"What we've seen, so far this weekend, is people of all ages being affected by heat," Dr Chant said. "The age range of patients has been 16 to 80 years of age. It reaffirms the fact that heat stress can creep up on you, very quickly, and anybody can be caught.
I would like to ask everyone to think about safety and act responsibly in these unusually hot conditions. Make an extra effort to check on family members, friends and neighbours, at least twice a day. The elderly and children are particularly vulnerable to the effects of hot weather.
Extra precautions are also needed to look after people who are already ill. They need to be monitored and protected from the heat. They certainly need extra attention and care during hot spells.
And it is absolutely essential that children and pets are not left in cars," Dr Chant said.
NSW Health has again issued advice that everyone needs to stay well hydrated. Drink lots of water and carry water when you're out and about. Keep out of the heat, avoid unnecessarily strenuous activity, and make the most of fans and air-conditioners. Only go into the sun if you really have to and when you do, keep the time outside limited, apply plenty of sunscreen, and wear a hat and long-sleeved shirt.
Even before this weekend's heat wave hit, there had been a marked upsurge in presentations to Emergency Departments. In January, 80 people were treated for heat-related illnesses, compared to an average of 41 over previous years. Ambulance call-outs have more than tripled, with 68 responses in January compared to an average of 20 in previous years.
Heat-related illnesses are a major health issue with over 1,000 deaths annually being attributable to heat in Australia.
Symptoms of heat exhaustion include nausea, faintness and dizziness, loss of appetite, weakness, headaches, vomiting, loss of sweating and reduced urine output. People showing these signs should be assisted to seek urgent medical attention through their GP or the Emergency Department of their nearest hospital.
Heat-related illness can range from mild conditions such as rash or cramps to very serious medical emergencies such as heat stroke. The rate of heart attack increases during extreme hot weather because the heart has to work harder to cope with the body's higher temperature.
While everyone is at risk of heat-related illness on particularly hot days, those at greatest risk are babies and young children; people over 65 years of age, people who are unwell - especially those with high blood pressure or heart disease - anyone exposed to high temperatures in their homes, workplace or at an event such as a sports carnival or festival.
Some medications interfere with the body's ability to cool it self and make people more susceptible to heat-related illness.