Health talk: Let’s be wary of heat wave

Health & Fitness
Heat waves or hot weather than can last for several days, can have significant impact on society, including a rise in heat related deaths.

By Dr Johannes Marisa

The country has lately experienced unbearable temperatures with some people getting serious health effects. The heat wave has seen some regions recording temperatures higher than 36°C.  Covid-19 has temporarily receded, but we may be unlucky soon as we face the fourth wave, which is already wreaking havoc in Europe, Asia and South America. The weather is surely unpleasant today as temperatures are unbearable. It’s sad to note that millions of people die yearly due to extremes of temperatures.

A heat wave is a period of unusually hot weather that typically lasts two or more days. To be considered a heat wave the temperatures have to be outside the historical averages for a given area. In the year 2017, Kariba recorded a record temperature of 42°C while Victoria Falls recorded 40°C with Harare and Bulawayo both recording 35°C.

Heat waves or hot weather than can last for several days, can have significant impact on society, including a rise in heat related deaths. Heat waves are among the most dangerous of natural hazards, but rarely receive adequate attention because their death tolls and destruction are not always immediately obvious. From 1998-2017 more than 166 000 people died due to heat waves, including more than 70 000 who died during the 2003 heat wave in Europe.

Population exposure to heat is increasing due to climate change. Globally, extreme temperature events are observed to be increasing in their frequency, duration and magnitude. Heat waves can burden health and emergency services. Food and livelihood security may also be strained if people lose their crops or livestock due to extreme heat.

What causes heat waves?

Heat waves begin when high pressure in the atmosphere moves in and pushes warm air towards the ground. The air warms up further as it is compressed and the environment begins to feel the heat.

What are the effects of heat wave?

Extreme heat events can be very dangerous to health. These events result in increased hospital admissions for heat-related illness as well as cardiovascular and respiratory disorders. Extreme heat events can trigger a variety of heat stress conditions such as heat stroke.

In essence, the following may arise as a result of the heat wave:

Heat stroke: This is the most serious heat-related illness. It occurs when the body becomes unable to control its temperature. The body temperature rises rapidly, the sweating mechanism fails and the body is unable to cool down.

Heat exhaustion: A condition whose symptoms may include heavy sweating and a rapid pulse, a result of body overheating. Other symptoms include cold, pale and clammy skin, muscle cramps, dizziness, and headache.

Hyperthermia: A dangerously overheated body, usually in response to prolonged heat, humid weather. It occurs when the body’s heat-regulating mechanisms don’t work effectively. Older age, certain illnesses and medication increase the risk of developing hyperthermia.

Heat cramps: These are painful, involuntary muscle spasms that usually occur during heavy exercise in hot environments. The spasms may be more intense and more prolonged than the typical night-time leg cramps.

How can the effects of the heat wave be reduced?

Heat wave effects may be reduced by observing some of the following measures:

  • Keep hydrated by making sure you drink enough fluids: Drink a lot of water, don’t wait until you feel thirsty, but regularly take fluids.
  • Limit exposure to heat: Limit outdoor activities for example planning outdoor activities before 10am and after 4pm when the heat is less intense. Being exposed to the heat for a long time while working may be catastrophic for the effects of the heat wave.
  • Reduce physical activity in the midst of the heat as it can aggravate heat.
  • Wear light, loose clothing which is not heavy to avoid trapping excess heat.
  • Avoid excess alcohol as alcohol has potential to cause dehydration
  • Open windows and add fans to increase air movement in order to provide air cooling and ventilation of heat.
  • For those who will be driving, please make sure that you do not leave children or pets in a closed car. You may find them dead after suffocating alone.
  • Always make sure that you check on your friends and relatives. The heat wave can take lives while people are alone hence the need to check on them.

Let us keep ourselves safe from the toxic effects of the heat wave. Save the next person. Know your health.

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