ST. GEORGE, Utah - Folks in southern Utah are used to hot summers, but consistent triple digit temperatures have agencies urging people to take extra care.
Carrie Shonlaw, Five County Association of Governments Director of Aging and Human Services, said each season presents its own set of challenges, and in summer it’s making sure vulnerable populations are staying cool.
“It’s important as family that we check on our elderly loved ones more frequently,” Shonlaw said.
Temperatures in St. George are expected to be above 100 degrees for the next seven days, and that puts roughly 20 percent of the population at a higher risk for heat illness. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 400 Americans die each year from heat related issues. That can include dehydration, or just getting too hot.
“Typically our elderly population tend to not drink enough fluids anyway,” Shonlaw said. “So during the summer it’s even more important for them to make sure they drink extra fluids.”
Other safety tips include staying inside whenever possible and dressing for the heat by wearing lightweight, light-colored clothing. Residents in St. George said they’re used to hot temperatures, and they try to adjust their schedules accordingly.
“I try to stay home,” said St George Resident Sofia Wetenkamp. “When I need to go out, I just do and do all my errands in one shot.”
Shonlaw also urges residents to be good neighbors. Checking on elderly or disabled individuals can help keep those populations safe. The American Red Cross offers these additional safety tips.
- Prepare. Discuss heat safety precautions with members of your household. Have a plan for what to do if the power goes out.
- Dress for the heat. Wear loose-fitting, lightweight, light-colored clothing. Avoid dark colors because they absorb the sun’s rays. It is also a good idea to wear hats or to use an umbrella.
- Stay hydrated. Carry water or juice with you and drink continuously even if you do not feel thirsty. Avoid drinks with alcohol or caffeine, which dehydrate the body.
- Eat small meals and eat more often. Avoid high-protein foods, which increase metabolic heat.
- Slow down and avoid strenuous activity. If you must do strenuous activity, do it during the coolest part of the day, which is usually in the morning between 4 and 7 a.m. Take frequent breaks.
- Stay indoors when possible. If air-conditioning is not available, stay on the lowest floor out of the sunshine. Remember that electric fans do not cool, they simply circulate the air.
- Be a good neighbor. During heat waves, check in on family, friends and neighbors who are elderly or ill and those who do not have air conditioning. Check on your animals frequently, too, to make sure they are not suffering from the heat.
- Learn Red Cross first aid and CPR/AED.
Know What These Heat-Related Terms Mean:
- Heat cramps: Heat cramps are muscular pains and spasms that usually occur in the legs or abdomen. They are caused by exposure to heat and humidity, and loss of fluids. Heat cramps are an early signal that the body is having trouble with the heat.
- Heat exhaustion: Heat exhaustion typically occurs when people exercise heavily or work in a hot, humid place where body fluids are lost through heavy sweating. Blood flow to the skin increases, causing blood flow to decrease to the vital organs. This results in a form of mild shock. If not treated, the victim may suffer heat stroke. Signals of heat exhaustion include cool, moist, pale flushed or red skin; heavy sweating; headache; nausea or vomiting; dizziness; and exhaustion. Body temperature will be near normal.
- Heat stroke: Also known as sunstroke, heat stroke is life-threatening. The victim's temperature-control system, which produces sweat as a way of cooling the body, stops working. Body temperature can rise so high that brain damage and death may result if the body is not cooled quickly. Signals include hot, red and dry skin; changes in consciousness; rapid, weak pulse; and rapid, shallow breathing.
General Care for Heat Emergencies:
- Heat exhaustion: Get the person to a cooler place and have him or her rest in a comfortable position. If the person is fully awake and alert, give half a glass of cool water every 15 minutes, and have the person drink slowly. Remove or loosen tight clothing and apply cool, wet cloths to the skin. Fan the person. Call 911 or the local emergency number if the person refuses water, vomits or loses consciousness.
- Heat stroke: Heat stroke is a life-threatening situation! Help is needed fast. Call 911 or your local emergency number. Move the person to a cooler place. Quickly cool the body. Wrap wet towels or sheets around the body. Use a water hose, if available, to cool the victim. Watch for signals of breathing problems. Keep the person lying down and continue to cool the body. If the victim refuses water or is vomiting or there are changes in the level of consciousness, do not give anything to eat or drink.