Health checks during heat waves can help protect the most susceptible

A new health check guide developed by the National Collaborating Centre for Environmental Health (NCCEH) and University of Ottawa helps to identify people most at risk during an extreme heat event and provides guidance on how to keep cool.

Climate change is leading to more frequent and intense extreme heat events across Canada with certain groups, like older adults, more vulnerable to the impacts of extreme heat.

“Some people are at higher risk of experiencing heat-related illness. Regularly checking in with susceptible people to see how they are coping can dramatically reduce heat-related illness and death,” said Health Minister Adrian Dix on Tuesday.

NCCEH, housed at the BC Centre for Disease Control, in collaboration with Dr. Glen Kenny at the Human and Environmental Physiology Research Unit of the University of Ottawa, developed the new, plain-language guide for doing in-person and remote health checks.

In addition to providing information on how to identify susceptible people, the guide offers actions for reducing body and indoor temperatures, and how to recognize heat-related illnesses.

”Regular health checks are one of many tools we can use to keep people safer during extreme heat events,” says Dr. Sarah Henderson, Scientific Director of the NCCEH and Environmental Health Services at the BC Centre for Disease Control.

“Many susceptible people may not recognize when they are overheating, but another person can help identify a risky situation with some careful questions and observations. Check in as often as possible. At least twice a day and once in the evening when it is hottest indoors.”

Extreme heat events can lead to dangerous indoor temperatures in homes without functioning air conditioning. Depending on the building and location within the city, indoor temperatures can be even hotter than outdoor temperatures due to heat absorbed by the surrounding environment, building materials and sun shining through the windows.

For people who are susceptible to heat, sustained indoor temperatures over 26°C can pose a risk to health, and sustained temperatures over 31°C can be dangerous.

“Heat-related illness can occur following prolonged exposure to hot environments where the body’s ability to dissipate heat is overwhelmed, leading to potentially dangerous increases in body temperature,” says Dr. Kenny.

“Severe heat related illness, conditions such as heat exhaustion or heat stroke, are more likely to occur in older people and those with medical conditions.”

The NCCEH guide can be used as a resource by anyone doing health checks during heat waves. The Health checks during extreme heat events guide provides:

  • A rapid risk assessment checklist
  • Information on how to recognize and respond to heat-related illness
  • How to do in-person health checks
  • How to do remote health checks
  • Information on body and indoor temperatures

The health check guide is available in English and French: https://ncceh.ca/documents/guide/health-checks-during-extreme-heat-events
(Additional language translations to come)

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