Louisiana is experiencing record-breaking high temperatures. The heat, coupled with high humidity, can cause potentially deadly heat-related illnesses. The Louisiana Department of Health and the Department of Children and Family Services encourage residents to take simple precautions to ensure their safety in the summer heat:
- Slow down. Avoid strenuous activity. If you must do heavy work, do it during the coolest part of the day.
- Stay indoors as much as possible. If air conditioning is not available, stay on the lowest floor, out of the sunshine. Try to go to a public building with air conditioning each day for several hours. Remember, electric fans do not cool the air, but they do help sweat evaporate, which cools your body.
- Wear lightweight, light-colored clothing. Light colors will reflect away some of the sun's energy.
- Drink plenty of water and fluids regularly and often, even if you do not feel thirsty. Your body needs water to keep cool.
- Avoid drinks with alcohol or caffeine in them. They can make you feel good briefly, but make the heat effects on your body worse. This is especially true about beer, which dehydrates your body.
- Eat small meals and eat more often. Avoid foods that are high in protein, which increase metabolic heat.
- Avoid using salt tablets unless directed to do so by a physician.
- Although any one at any time can suffer from heat-related illness, some people are at greater risk than others. Check regularly on:
- Infants and young children
- People aged 65 or older
- People who have a mental illness
- Those who are physically ill, especially with heart disease or high blood pressure
- Visit adults at risk at least twice a day and closely watch them for signs of heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Infants and young children, of course, need much more frequent supervision.
- NEVER leave anyone in a closed, parked vehicle, especially children. Parents and caregivers can make a safety plan to ensure that children or other passengers are not forgotten in car. For instance, if you are transporting a child or passenger when it is not part of your normal routine, have a spouse or family member call to make sure everything went according to plan.
Since 1989 DCFS reports that in cases investigated as abuse or neglect, 21 children have died of hyperthermia (heat stroke) as a result of being left unattended in a car. Last year alone, DCFS investigated cases involving six children resulting in three deaths and three children with serious or permanent injuries including brain damage, blindness, kidney failure and second degree burns.
According to State Health Officer Dr. Jimmy Guidry, people suffer from heat-related illness when their bodies are unable to cool themselves properly.
"The body normally cools itself by sweating, which is why it is so important to rehydrate by drinking plenty of fluids. Under some conditions, sweating just isn't enough," Dr. Guidry said.
Warning signs of heat stroke include extremely high body temperature; red, hot and dry skin; rapid, strong pulse; throbbing headache; and dizziness, nausea, confusion and/or unconsciousness. Any of these can be signs of a life-threatening emergency.
If someone you know is experiencing these symptoms in the heat, try to bring the person's body temperature down immediately by bringing him or her to a shady area and cooling the person's skin rapidly with water. Make sure to monitor the person's body temperature and, above all, do not give him or her alcohol to drink. Seek professional medical attention immediately.
If you see a child left unattended in a vehicle, contact local law enforcement or dial 911.
The Louisiana Department of Health strives to protect and promote health statewide and to ensure access to medical, preventive and rehabilitative services for all state citizens. To learn more about LDH, visit http://www.dhh.louisiana.gov. For up-to-date health information, news and emergency updates, follow LDH's blog, Twitter account and Facebook.