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State officials urge citizens: If you see something, do something

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Missouri and Arkansas state agencies are teaming up to urge citizens to intervene if they should see children who may be at risk because they have been left in a car during hot weather.

"It only takes a few minutes for a child to be in serious danger in this heat," said Captain Ron Stayton, Commander of the Arkansas State Police Crimes Against Children Division. "We're asking folks who see something, to do something by calling for help."

State agencies are joining together to prevent more tragedies like the ones the state already has seen this year and encourage anyone who witnesses a child left in an unattended vehicle to call 9-1-1 or their nearest law enforcement agency.

Even in cool temperatures, cars can heat up to dangerous temperatures very quickly, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Rolling windows down slightly also isn't a guarantee of safety. Interior temperatures can still rise almost 20 degrees Fahrenheit within the first 10 minutes.

Anyone left inside a vehicle is at risk for serious heat-related illnesses or even death. Children who are left unattended in parked cars are at greatest risk for heat stroke, and possibly death. When traveling, remember to:

Never leave infants, children or pets in a parked car, even if the windows are cracked open.

Remind yourself that a child is in the car by keeping a stuffed animal in the car seat. When the child is buckled in, place the stuffed animal in the front with the driver.

When leaving your car, check to be sure everyone is out of the car. Do not overlook any children who have fallen asleep in the car.

Look in the backseat every time you leave the car, even when you aren't carrying a child with you.

Dirk Haselow, MD, PhD, director for the Infectious Disease branch, ADH, said "Everyone is vulnerable when the temperatures and humidity stay so high for so long, not just children.

"We are especially concerned for the elderly, the very young, anyone with a chronic disease and anyone who has been left in an un-air conditioned car in this heat," Haselow said.

Hot temperatures and high humidity are a dangerous mix that contributes to illness and death each year. Seventeen Arkansans died due to heat-related illness in 2011. On average, there are 400 heat-related deaths a year in the U.S.

While the elderly, people with health problems, and very young children are the most vulnerable, heat can affect anyone--even strong, healthy athletes can be stricken. Our bodies are cooled primarily by losing heat through the skin and perspiration with evaporation. When our core body heat gain exceeds the amount we can get rid of the body's natural defense fails and heat-related illness may develop. The following heat disorders are progressive and should be attended to immediately:

Heat cramps. These are prolonged muscle pains that result from severe salt and magnesium depletion due to heavy sweating. Treatment includes salt replacement, cooling down and gentle massage.

Heat exhaustion. This is the most common illness caused by heat and often occurs while the person is working outside or attending outside events in extremely hot, humid weather. The victim may complain of weakness and feel faint. Other symptoms include dizziness, nausea, headache and confusion. The person should be moved to a cooler place, and wet cloths applied for cooling down. Fluid and salt should be replaced. Depending on the severity of the illness, hospitalization and intravenous fluid replacement may be necessary. This condition usually comes just before heat stroke.

Heat stroke (also called sunstroke). This is a life-threatening condition in which the victim's temperature-control system stops working. Sweating is ineffective or stops completely, and the body's temperature can rise so high that the nervous system, the brain and other organs can be damaged permanently. Death may occur if the body is not cooled quickly. The symptoms of heat stroke include sudden high fever, dry skin, delirium, convulsions and seizures. Heat stroke is a medical emergency--call 911 and cool the person as fast as you can. Ice, a cold bath, and wet sheets are recommended until medical help arrives.

Those who work, exercise, or participate in strenuous activity, such as football practice, for an hour or more during intense heat may lose or sweat up to two quarts of water. If you must pursue intense activity during hot weather, follow these safety tips.

Drink plenty of water; fluid replacement is crucial to avoid heat risks. Drink more water than usual before exercising or working in the heat. Schedule breaks with fluid replacement. If you are elderly or taking medication, ask your doctor about fluid intake recommendations.

Schedule your strenuous activity during the coolest time of the day.

Monitor how you feel. Watch for feelings of weakness, confusion and rapid breathing. If you have difficulty maintaining your regular pace, slow down.

Wear a broad spectrum sunscreen of SPF 15 or higher to protect skin from sunburns and skin cancer.

Elderly people should avoid staying indoors during heat waves without using air conditioning. More than half of the 700 heat-related deaths in the 1995 Chicago heat wave could have been prevented with an air conditioner in the home, according to a published study. If you cannot afford an air conditioner for your home, spend more time in other air conditioned environments.

For more information visit www.healthy.arkansas.gov.

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