Thousands flock to the beach in Coney Island during a heat wave, 11 June 2011. Photo: NY Post

By Maggie Fox, Senior Writer, NBC News
6 Jun 2013

(NBC News) – Think last summer was bad? You better get used to it, federal health officials warned Thursday. Climate change means hotter summers and more intense storms that could knock power out for days -- and kill people.

New data on heat-related deaths suggest that public health officials have been underestimating them, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says. It’s an especially important message as summers get longer and hotter due to climate change, and as storms that can cause widespread blackouts become more common and more intense.

More than 7,200 people died from excess heat from 1999 to 2009, Ethel Taylor and colleagues at the CDC found.  The latest numbers, part of the CDC’s weekly report in death and illness, list non-residents for the first time, a group that includes illegal immigrants, tourists, migrant workers and others. These groups suffer especially when it gets hot, Taylor says.

“About 15 percent of the heat-related deaths we have seen over 10 years are occurring in non-US residents,” Taylor told NBC News. This adds up to about 1,000 people.

The CDC is now trying to find out just who these people are and why they’re being killed disproportionately by heat. Forty percent of the deaths over the 10 years were in just three states – California, Arizona and Texas. They are all border states in the south with plenty of desert and agriculture, so the victims could be illegal immigrants who died trying to cross the border, farm workers, or rural poor. Taylor says it’s important to get more information about them.

Awareness of the dangers is important because longer, hotter and more extreme weather is here to stay, the CDC’s George Luber says.

“The most serious hurricanes are increasing in frequency … and that is driven by climate change,” Luber says.

Weather experts stress that it’s impossible to say whether any individual storm or heat wave was caused by climate change. But the patterns are clearly changing and that can certainly be attributed to climate change, Luber says. “The sheer magnitude of these weather events are a challenge to public health,” Luber says.

The “derecho” that hit some eastern states last July is a great example of this. The storm blew in on June 29, knocking down trees with tornado-force winds that, as the name implies, blew straight across the land instead of in a twisting spiral.

Power was knocked out for days – eight days in some areas – just as a two-week-long heat wave moved in. Maryland, Ohio, Virginia, and West Virginia were the worst-hit, and CDC has documented 32 heat-related deaths during that time.That’s a rate of 1.1 per 100,000 people

That’s bad, but not nearly as bad as in similar events in years past, says Taylor. For example, a heat wave in Chicago in 1995 killed 514 people, a rate of 9.7 deaths per 100,000 people, and a 1993 heat wave in Philadelphia killed 118 people, or 7.5 per 100,000. […]

All communities should be thinking about taking similar measures, says Luber, because more extreme weather is coming. “Climate predictions and observations are suggesting that the magnitude of extreme weather events is increasing,” he says. “So we expect these more frequently.” [more]

Get used to killer heat waves, CDC warns


Contact: CDC Media Relations, Office of Communication, (404) 639-3286
6 June 2013

(CDC) – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is urging people to prepare for extreme heat this summer by staying cool, hydrated, and informed.  “No one should die from a heat wave, but every year on average, extreme heat causes 658 deaths in the United States—more than tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, and lightning combined,” said Robin Ikeda, MD, MPH, acting director of the National Center for Environmental Health and Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. “Taking common sense steps in extreme temperatures can prevent heat-related illnesses and deaths.”

Extreme heat can lead to very high body temperatures, brain and organ damage, and even death. People suffer heat-related illness when their bodies are unable to compensate and cool themselves properly. Extreme heat affects everyone, but the elderly, children, the poor or homeless, persons who work or exercise outdoors, and those with chronic medical conditions are most at risk.

A study released today in CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report found that 7,233 heat-related deaths occurred in the United States from 1999 to 2009. An analysis of 2012 data indicates that deaths are on the rise. In a 2-week period in 2012, excessive heat exposure resulted in 32 deaths in four states, four times the typical average for those states for the same 2-week period from 1999-2009. More than two thirds of the deaths (69 percent) occurred at home, and 91 percent of those homes lacked air conditioning.   Most of those who died were unmarried or living alone, and 72 percent were male.

According to CDC’s Environmental Tracking Network from 1999 to 2009 three states, Arizona, California, and Texas accounted for approximately 40 percent of all heat-related deaths in the United States.   Across the nation, heat-related deaths occur more frequently among males and among adults aged 65 and older.

CDC recommends that local governments engage in advanced planning and preparation to minimize deaths from extreme heat events and to heighten public awareness about the dangers of excessive heat exposure.  Advance planning should include increasing access to air conditioning, cooling stations or other public locations that can be used by residents for temporary relief from heat, particularly when temperatures are elevated for several consecutive days.

“Heat-related illnesses and deaths are preventable. Taking steps to stay cool, hydrated and informed in extreme temperatures can prevent serious health effects like heat exhaustion and heat stroke,” said Ethel Taylor, DVM, MPH, the study’s lead author.

CDC is offering new resources, including a new website to prepare for extreme heat, new data on heat-related emergency room visits and hospitalizations, and a Climate Change and Extreme Heat Events guidebook. The new resources not only provide prevention information; but also, data to illustrate the devastating impact extreme heat exposure can exert on a person’s daily life. 

New Resources on Extreme Heat

  • Extreme Heat and Your Health Website: This new page collects CDC resources on extreme heat in one place and provides information on how to prevent heat-related illnesses and deaths for a variety of audiences.  The site can be accessed at http://www.cdc.gov/extremeheat/
  • Environmental Public Health Tracking Data: CDC’s Environmental Public Health Tracking Network introduces new data on heat-stress hospitalizations and emergency room visits from 2000-2011.  This adds to the records already available on extreme temperatures, heat-related deaths, and social and environmental conditions that make people vulnerable to extreme heat.  Decision makers can use these data to plan how and where to focus efforts to protect the public from extreme heat.  The Tracking Network can be accessed at www.cdc.gov/ephtracking.
  • Climate Change and Extreme Heat Events Guidebook: This recently released guidebook for state and local health departments describes how to prepare for and respond to extreme heat events and explains how the frequency, duration, and severity of these events are increasing as a result of climate change. An audio file for the recent CDC extreme heat event webinar is also available for tips and guidance. The guidebook is available at http://www.cdc.gov/climateandhealth/pubs/ClimateChangeandExtremeHeatEvents.pdf Adobe PDF file

    The webinar archive can be accessed at: https://cc.readytalk.com/cc/s/meetingArchive?eventId=qozysq4qk56yExternal Web Site Icon

  • Workplace Solutions Bulletin: This recently released NIOSH bulletin provides updated statistics, case studies and recommendations for workers and employers to follow in order to reduce the risk of heat-related illness when working outdoors.  The report provides specific guidance, examples and it adds to the available resources that illustrate how extreme heat exposures can lead to occupational illnesses and injuries and possible death.  The NIOSH resources are available at:
    http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/wp-solutions/2013-143/
    http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/heatstress/

For more information on extreme heat and heat safety, call 1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4636) or visit www.cdc.gov/extremeheat.

CDC urges everyone: Get ready to stay cool before temperatures soar

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