Many Virginians celebrated the July Fourth holiday with trips to beaches and parks and backyard cookouts. The Virginia Department of Health reminds residents enjoying time with family and friends to be aware of the signs of heat-related illness, particularly in those more vulnerable to extreme temperatures.
Hot temperatures, high heat indexes and hot, sunny conditions can cause ill health effects. During the most recent heat wave, from June 28 through July 1, a total of 206 visits were made to emergency departments or urgent care centers in Virginia as a result of heat-related illnesses.
“We encourage all residents to take the necessary precautions to protect against heat-related illness,” said Chief Deputy Commissioner of Community Health Services Dr. Parham Jaberi. “And remember to consider the special needs of children, the elderly and those without air conditioning in the hot weather.”
Extreme heat can be deadly. According to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, between 2018 and 2020 there were 28 heat-related deaths in Virginia.
One of the most important precautions people should take is to schedule or reschedule activities and outdoor work until the coolest parts of the day. In the summer, sunlight exposure and heat are greatest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
Signs of severe heat-related illness include high body temperature, fast pulse, dizziness, nausea, confusion, headache, passing out, and hot, red, dry or damp skin.
Here are additional steps you can take to protect yourself against heat-related illnesses:
- On extremely hot days, stay indoors in an air-conditioned area or find a cooling center in your area if your home is not cool. Spending at least two hours per day in air conditioning significantly reduces the risk of heat-related illnesses. When temperatures reach the upper 90s or above, a fan may not prevent heat-related illness.
- Drink plenty of fluids (2-4 glasses of cool fluids) each hour. To replace salt and minerals lost from sweating, drink fruit juice or a sports beverage during exercise or when you have to work outside. However, talk to your doctor first if you are on a fluid-restricted diet or medications, or on a low-salt diet.
- If you must be outdoors, wear lighter weight and light-colored clothing and wide-brimmed hats to reflect the sun’s rays. Apply sunscreen to exposed skin to avoid sunburn. Sunburn limits your body’s ability to keep itself cool and causes loss of body fluids. Use sunscreen with a SPF of 15 or greater, and apply it at least 20 minutes before going outside.
- Extreme heat can be stressful on your body. Limit physical activity until your body adjusts to the heat.
- Never leave children or pets in cars. Temperatures inside a car can reach higher than 150 degrees quickly, resulting in heat stroke and death.
- Use the “buddy system” if you are working outside. If you suffer a heat-related illness, you could become confused or could lose consciousness. Therefore, make sure someone else knows of your plans.
- Be sure to check on the elderly and neighbors without air conditioning.
For more information about heat-related illnesses, visit the Virginia Department of Health’s website at https://www.vdh.virginia.gov/news/public-relations-contacts/severe-weather-preparedness/extreme-heat-and-heat-related-illnesses/.
- Submitted by Robert Parker, VDH Public Information Officer