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The record-breaking heatwave in British Columbia has prompted health officials to warn of the dangers of heatstroke as temperatures continue to rise across the country.
According to press release, more than 700 deaths occurred last week during the spike in temperatures, more than three times what would typically occur in the province.
"We are releasing this information as it is believed likely the extreme weather B.C. has experienced in the past week is a significant contributing factor to the increased number of deaths," the province's chief coroner, Lisa Lapointe, said in a statement.
Meanwhile, Environment Canada has issued heat warnings for areas throughout Ontario, as temperatures with the humidex in the Greater Toronto Area expected to surpass 40 degrees Celsius this week.
Sustained periods of extreme heat pose serious health risks, with heat-related illnesses varying from person to person. Recognizing the signs of heat stroke and heat-related illnesses is key to preventing tragedy and helping your family stay safe this summer.
Who’s at risk?
While anyone can develop heat exhaustion or heat stroke, extreme heat and compromised air quality due to smog warnings poses a particular threat for infants, children, the elderly and those with heart and respiratory disease. Officials are advising friends and family to pay extra attention to those at risk, and when possible, re-locate those without air-conditioning.
Anyone who suffers from heart, lung or kidney disease, high-blood pressure, diabetes, alcoholism as well as anyone overweight or severely underweight are at an increased risk for heat-related illnesses and must be extra-cautious.
Heat-related illnesses, also known as hyperthermia, is caused by the body’s inability to cool itself, causing body temperatures to rise. Both heat exhaustion and heat stroke are dangerous conditions that often present with flu-like symptoms, and that many people may not be aware of.
Symptoms to look out for
Heat exhaustion symptoms include muscle cramping, fatigue, headache, nausea or vomiting and dizziness or fainting.
Even with heat exhaustion, a person’s skin may feel cool or moist — indicating that their body is still able to regulate its temperature. However, shallow breathing and a rapid, weak pulse are all indicators that someone is suffering from heat stroke.
Without medical attention, heat exhaustion can escalate to heat stroke with potentially fatal outcomes.
Symptoms of heat stroke include a body temperature greater than 39.4 degrees Celsius (103 degrees Fahrenheit), visibly red, hot skin that’s dry (no sweating), rapid, strong pulse, headache, dizziness, nausea, confusion or unconsciousness.
Advanced heat stroke can cause damage to the brain and can potentially result in organ failure and death. Immediate medical attention is advised if you suspect you have either heat exhaustion or heat stroke.
Preventing heat-related illnesses
Air conditioning is the best resource to prevent heat-related illnesses or death. Health officials advise spending time in public places with air conditioning, such as shopping malls, to help limit exposure to extreme temperatures. Some municipalities establish emergency cooling areas for high-risk residents that adhere to COVID-19 safety protocols.
To help prevent heat exhaustion or heat stroke, limit your sun exposure during peak midday hours when the sun is at its strongest and avoid any physical activity or exertion.
Wearing sunscreen with an SPF greater than 30, hats and light clothing, as well as staying hydrated and drinking plenty of water or sports drinks are crucial in preventing heat-related illness.
Monitoring the colour and frequency of your urine is an easy way to spot dehydration. Infrequent use of the bathroom or dark coloured urine is a key indicator that your body requires fluids. Parents of young children who notice they require less diaper changes should also be concerned.
Be sure to give fresh water to pets and leave water for your animals outdoors in shaded areas.