Updated 10 February 2014

Miracle survival of week-old baby left in scorching heat

A baby left by the side of the road in Durban was, incredibly, found to be in remarkably good health despite enduring very high temperatures.

The baby boy, who was just a week old and still had his umbilical cord attached, was found in a plastic bag where the temperature had reached over 30°C. 

Paramedics had to provide minimal medical intervention before handing him over to the relevant department. The baby, however, showed no signs of sunstroke, which is the biggest killer in similar situations.

Sunstroke: the facts

Sunstroke can be fatal if not properly treated. Once the body's cooling mechanism fails, the core temperature rises rapidly and death can occur in as little as 30 minutes. Some people die up to several weeks after the initial acute episode as a result of complications such as kidney failure or heart failure. Sunstroke kills over 10% of its victims. Sunstroke may also cause permanent damage to organs such as the liver.

In a hot environment, your body rids itself of excess heat through increasing blood flow to the skin, sweating and breathing out warmed air. These mechanisms can sometimes be overwhelmed, however, leading to heat-related symptoms, which, if left untreated, can lead to sunstroke.

Read: Beware of dehydration this summer

When blood temperature rises above its normal range, a control centre in the brain (the hypothalamus) signals the circulatory system to increase blood flow and enlarge the blood vessels, particularly those in the skin. As more blood flows through the enlarged vessels, excess heat from the blood passes into the cooler air. If this is not sufficient to cool the blood, the sweat glands begin to produce sweat, which cools the skin as it evaporates.

If the air temperature is very high, however, the blood may not cool down enough as it circulates through the skin. Also, when you lose too much fluid, the blood volume decreases, and body temperature rises. If the body continues to generate heat faster than it can be dissipated, the core temperature (central body temperature) may rise to dangerous levels.

Sunstroke usually occurs when working in an extremely hot environment, especially one to which you are unused; exercising too strenuously, particularly in summer; or when you have a high fever associated with illness.

Read: Be wise in the sun

Humid weather also renders the cooling mechanism of sweating less effective. Overdressing, overeating and drinking too much alcohol can be contributing factors.

The primary cause of symptoms is loss of sodium and chloride (which make up salt), rather than the amount of water.

Source: The Witness

Read more:
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Dealing with oily skin
Vitamin D and the sun


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Dr Suretha Kannenberg holds a degree in Medicine and a Masters in Dermatology from the University of Stellenbosch. She is employed as a consultant dermatologist by Stellenbosch University and Tygerberg Academic Hospital, where she is involved in clinical duties and the training of medical students and dermatology residents. Her areas of interest and research include vitiligo, eczema and acne. She also performs limited private practice work in the Northern suburbs of Cape Town in general and cosmetic dermatology.

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