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Heatwaves relation to health

How does this relate to public health?

One recent model suggests that by year 2059, the Southeast can expect a 2-3°F increase in heat wave intensity and 1-2 more days per heat wave. Similarly, North Carolina is predicted to see a 2.79°F increase in heat wave intensity and 2.63 more days per heat wave.1

“In heat waves, it is important for people to stay cool. Many cities now have local air-conditioned centers where people can go to cool off as relief from the heat. Some police stations will also check on the elderly to make sure they are comfortable with the increased temperatures outside in order to minimize heat-related deaths.

In North Carolina, agricultural workers and young athletes who spend several hours a day outside are especially vulnerable to heat-related illness during heat waves. In fact, from 1992 to 2006, the annualized rate for reported heat-related deaths among crop workers in the U.S. was highest in North Carolina at 2.36 deaths per 100,000 workers.2

If you are in a rural area, it is important to get to areas with air conditioning like a shopping mall or movie theater or a friend's house to avoid putting yourself in danger. If you need to work outside, you should take frequent breaks in cool areas and drink a lot of water to prevent dehydration.

If you stop sweating in hot conditions, experience heat cramps or faint, seek immediate medical attention because your body may be overheating, leading to heat stroke and even death.”

Rising average temperatures and more frequent and more intense heat waves due to climate change are affecting human health in several ways. Most directly, warmer average temperatures and more extreme temperatures put more people at risk for heat-related death and disease, such as heat stroke and dehydration.3 For example, in North Carolina, the number of heat-related visits to the emergency department increases by 15.8 for every 1°F increase in temperature from 98°F to 100°F.4

Figure B
Image from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Older adults and young children are vulnerable to heat-related illnesses. However, over the past two summers, North Carolina has seen the greatest number of heat-related visits to the emergency department among men ages 25-64.5,6

Figure C: Heat-related emergency department visits by age group in 2011 Figure D: Heat-related emergency department visits by age group in 2012

Images from North Carolina Division of public health

In addition, heat stress increases the risk for other diseases, especially respiratory death. In the U.S., severe heat events account for more deaths than all other extreme weather-related events combined each year. With increasing temperatures due to climate change, summertime heat-related deaths are expected to increase significantly, while wintertime deaths are expected to decrease slightly.3


1Gao, Y., et al. (2012). Projected changes of extreme weather events in the eastern United States based on a high resolution climate modeling system. Environmental Research Letters,7(4), 044025.

2Luginbuhl, RC; Jackson LL; Castillo DN; Loringer KA. heat-related deaths among crop workers --- United States, 1992—2006. MMWR 2008;57(24);649-653. <http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/PDF/wk/mm5724.pdf> Accessed November 17, 2012.

3Portier CJ, et al. 2010. A human health perspective on climate change: a report outlining the research needs on the human health effects of climate change. Research Triangle Park, NC: Environmental Health Perspectives/National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. doi:10.1289/ehp.1002272 <www.niehs.nih.gov/climatereport> Accessed November 17, 2012.

4Rhea, S; et al. 2012. Using near real-time morbidity data to identify heat-related illness prevention strategies in North Carolina. Journal of Community Health 37:495-500. DOI 10.1007/s10900-011-9469-0.

5North Carolina Division of Public Health, Occupational and Environmental Epidemiology. The 2011 North Carolina heat report. July 2011. <http://publichealth.nc.gov/chronicdiseaseandinjury/doc/HeatReport-13-2011.pdf> Accessed November 17, 2012.

6North Carolina Division of Public Health, Occupational and Environmental Epidemiology. The 2012 North Carolina heat report. <http://publichealth.nc.gov/chronicdiseaseandinjury/doc/HeatReport20-2012.pdf> Accessed November 17, 2012.


Last modified date: Tuesday, August 13, 2013 - 8:50am