With extremely high temperatures hitting vast areas of the country; dehydration, hyperthermia, heatstroke or heat exhaustion can pose a very real threat, particularly to vulnerable children and elderly individuals. This is a warning from emergency service providers in South Africa.
“It has been a particularly hot summer holiday with Netcare 911 having to attend to a number of heat exhaustion and heat stroke cases across much of the country", the medical services provider told Health24.
Read: Gauteng braces for record-breaking heatwave
The following map, by the Weather Service of South Africa, shows that extremely hot weather conditions exist in predominantly the Western Cape.
According to the Weather Service of South Africa, these conditions are likely to continue at least until Thursday, 7 January 2016, with temperatures rising into the higher thirties.
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Who is most at risk?
The elderly should be particularly vigilant, especially those suffering from medical conditions such as epilepsy and high-blood pressure.
Babies, children and pets should not be left unattended in vehicles as they can rapidly dehydrate.
Those out on a walk or hike at the hottest time of the day should drink at least two litres of water a day.
Athletes, those taking certain medication and outdoor workers may also be particularly at risk of developing heatstroke.
The condition can also be a threat to those undertaking vigorous work in warm indoor environments without the appropriate ventilation.
What is heatstroke?
Heatstroke occurs when the human body’s core temperature increases beyond 40 degrees Celsius. The condition can cause an individual to slip into a coma and suffer organ failure and can be fatal if not treated properly and promptly.
The body generates heat but is usually able to dissipate this by radiation via the skin or through the evaporation of sweat on the skin.
In extremely hot or humid environments and in cases where people overexert themselves, the body may not be able to get rid of the heat fast enough and an individual may suffer hyperthermia which, is an abnormally elevated body temperature.
Dehydration may be another cause of hyperthermia.
Heat exhaustion and heatstroke are forms of hyperthermia. Sometimes an individual will suffer from heat exhaustion which progresses to heatstroke, while other individuals may develop heatstroke rapidly and without warning.
Heatstroke should be treated as a medical emergency and emergency medical services should be contacted if you suspect that someone is suffering from the condition.
What you should do to get the patient’s body temperature down in order to prevent organ damage
- Move the individual out of the sun and into the shade.
- Remove their clothing
- Place them in a bathtub filled with cool or tepid water if they are conscious. Do not use very cold water as it can prevent heat escaping the body core. Be sure to keep a close eye on when a patient is placed in a bath to make sure he or she does not lose consciousness.
- Or, hose them down with cool water from a garden hose
- Or, wipe them down using a cool, wet cloth
- Fan them to encourage evaporation on and cooling of the skin.
- Give the patient drinking water or, even better, isotonic drinks containing electrolytes.
TIP: To make a quick dehydration drink - called Oral Rehydration Salts (ORS): mix 8 level teaspoons of sugar and half a teaspoon of salt into 5 cups (1 litre) of clean or previously boiled and cooled water.
Coconut water is also a great for dehydrating.
If they cannot take any liquids orally, intravenous hydration by means of a drip is necessary.
Signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion
Nausea, headache, vomiting, fatigue, muscle cramps and aches and dizziness.
Read more about heat exhaustion
The symptoms of heatstroke differ from person to person and include those of heat exhaustion as well as the following:
- high body temperature
- dry flushed skin with an absence of sweating
- rapid pulse
- trouble breathing
- bewilderment and confusion
- unusual and sometimes aggressive behaviour
- seizures and losing consciousness
If any of these symptoms are noted, seek medical assistance as soon as possible.
How to cope with high temperatures
Heatwave survivor kit
- Try to avoid any strenuous physical activity in the heat or in hot, humid conditions.
- Avoid exposure to the sun in the middle of the day, when the UV intensity is at its most intense.
- Make sure that you stay hydrated by drinking sufficient fluids such as water and sports drinks. However, do not overdo your drinking, as it is also possible to over-hydrate. You should not feel bloated after drinking fluids. Drink small amounts at regular intervals.
- Avoid drinks that may dehydrate you further, such as alcohol, fizzy colas, tea and coffee.
- Wear wrap-around UV protective sunglasses and a wide brimmed sun hat.
- Apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen of sun protection factor (SPF) 15+ liberally on areas of the body not protected by clothing. Reapply frequently.
- Take care to ensure that babies and children are well protected and kept cool.
- Avoid exposure to the sun during pregnancy.
- Avoid excessive exposure to the sun whilst swimming or engaging in other water related activities.
- Check that medication being taken will not affect sensitivity to heat.
- Do not leave anyone, especially babies, small children or the elderly in a locked car, not even for a few minutes, as the temperature inside a car can rise to exceptionally high levels within a very short period.
- Electrolyte solution and lots of cool water
- Fan and air conditioner
- Sunscreen and hat
- Radio or Twitter for weather alerts
- Emergency numbers (see below) or call Netcare911 for Medical Emergencies only on 082 911
First aid for heat exhaustion
First aid for heat stroke
The October 2015 Gauteng heat wave