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Extreme Heat Events

Info and tools for health care providers on the dangers of extreme heat, and how to properly prevent, diagnose and treat heat-related illnesses.

What do all these Extreme Heat Events mean?

Summer has officially arrived and with it hot, humid weather has blanketed many parts of Canada. British Columbia shattered many local temperature records over the July long weekend, with temperatures reaching up to 40.3°C in Lytton, and 36.7°C in Merritt; breaking the oldest record of 35°C set in 1924. In Alberta, twenty regional heat records were broken on July 1st, coupled with rolling blackouts in Red Deer and Edmonton as the electrical grid came under intense strain. Many regions in Ontario have also been calling heat alerts since late June.

Our extremeheat.ca website provides links to both a health care provider online education program, as well as a public information site. You can learn more about our online program here.

These types of extreme heat events are becoming more frequent and intense. The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) recently released a summary report investigating climate extremes. According to the WMO survey, a total of 56 countries (44%) reported their highest daily maximum temperature record observed between 2001 and 2010. The report also states that 2001 – 2010 was the warmest decade since records began for both hemispheres and for both land and ocean surface temperatures.

The WMO report can be found here.

What does this mean for healthcare?

With increases in extreme heat events and a warming climate across the globe, it is anticipated additional strain will be put on the health care system through increased morbidity and mortality, especially in the most vulnerable (seniors, children, those with chronic illness, people on particular medications and the physically active).

President Obama released in June The President’s Climate Action Plan, where creating resilience in the health sector was identified as an area of importance:

Promoting Resilience in the Health Sector:

The Department of Health and Human Services will launch an effort to create sustainable and resilient hospitals in the face of climate change. Through a public-private partnership with the healthcare industry, it will identify best practices and provide guidance on affordable measures to ensure that our medical system is resilient to climate impacts. It will also collaborate with partner agencies to share best practices among federal health facilities. And, building on lessons from pilot projects underway in 16 states, it will help train public-health professionals and community leaders to prepare their communities for the health consequences of climate change, including through effective communication of health risks and resilience measures.

What can health care providers do?

Health care workers can become familiar with the signs and symptoms of heat illness and how to treat it. Taking the online Extreme Heat Events Program is a great first step! Use the Health Canada products listed under the Resources tab in your daily interactions with patients before and during the summer season. There are plenty of resources for all your needs, whether you’re meeting with seniors, parents and children, or the physically active. This CMAJ article also provides some interesting “Five Things to Know” about extreme heat.