Types of Disasters and Their Consequences

American Public Health Association 

In This Article

Heat Wave

Over time, populations can acclimatize to hot weather. However, mortality and morbidity rise when daytime temperatures remain unusually high for several days in a row and nighttime temperatures do not drop significantly. Because populations acclimatize to summer temperatures, heat waves in June and July have more of an impact than those in August and September. There is often a delay between the onset of a heat wave and adverse health effects. Deaths occur more commonly during heat waves where there is little cooling at night and taper off to baseline levels if a heat wave is sustained. Table 3 lists common terms associated with heat related conditions.

Heat waves result in adverse health effects in cities more than in rural areas. Those at greatest risk of adverse health outcomes include older adults, infants, those with a history of prior heatstroke, and those who are obese. Drugs that may predispose users to heatstroke include neurolepics and anticholinergics. Heat-related morbidity and mortality come from heat cramps, heatstroke, heat exhaustion, heat syncope, myocardial infarction, loss of consciousness, dizziness, cramps, and stroke.

Residents at greatest risk must be moved to air-conditioned buildings for at least a few hours each day. All residents must maintain adequate hydration and reduce outdoor activity levels. Education campaigns should concentrate on protecting older adults and helping parents of children under five years of age understand how to protect their children from heat and prevent heat disorders.

  • Develop an early warning surveillance system that triggers the mobilization of prevention and intervention activities.

  • Identify the location of residents who might be at risk due to age, pre-existing conditions, lack of air conditioning, and other environmental or health factors.

  • Work with utilities to educate the public about preventive actions when energy blackouts might be anticipated.

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