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Health Authority Declares Heat Emergency in El Paso

Dr. Hector Ocaranza, El Paso City/County Health Authority, issued a heat emergency for the El Paso Area.  This announcement was made during a press conference at the Chalio Acosta Sports Center in south El Paso on August 1, 2016.

“El Paso residents and those living in and around our region need to realize that the trend we are seeing in regards to high temperatures can be life-threatening,” Ocaranza said.  “Living in this area we can become complacent with summer heat, but it’s important to do everything we can to preserve our health and our lives. We need to rely on one another by using the buddy system to prevent heat-related illness.”

The Extreme Weather Task Force (EWTF), comprised of various City and County Departments and agencies made the recommendation in the wake of four heat-related deaths recorded so far this year.

Grace Ortiz, EWTF chair, says after consultations with representatives of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, it was clear that we are in an emergency situation. We have to prevent any other future heat related deaths in our community.

“We are experiencing a La Nina weather pattern that is similar to what we saw in 1994. While we have yet to see more days with temperatures greater the 100 degrees, we need to be prepared for the heat to continue well into the next few months,” said Ortiz.

The most vulnerable include the elderly and young children, and individuals who work outdoors or spend multiple hours in the heat should also be aware of their condition. They are the most likely to suffer from heat exhaustion which includes: heavy sweating; weakness; cold, pale and clammy skin; a fast or weak pulse; nausea or vomiting; and fainting.

They might also experience the more serious symptoms of heat stroke which include: a body temperature above 103°F; hot, red, dry or moist skin; rapid and strong pulse; and possible loss of consciousness.

It is recommended that those suffering from heat exhaustion move to a cooler location; lie down and loosen your clothing; apply cool, wet cloths to as much of your body as possible; sip water; and if you have vomited and it continues, seek medical attention immediately.

Those suffering from heat stroke should: call 911 immediately — this is a medical emergency; move the person to a cooler environment; reduce the person’s body temperature with cool cloths or even a bath; and do not give fluids.

The EWTF also reminds residents that free fans are still available to homes with no air-conditioning. They are encouraged to dial 2-1-1 to see if they qualify. Donations of new fans can also be made at any El Paso Fire station.

TIPS FOR PREVENTING HEAT-RELATED ILLNESS

Drink more fluids (non-alcoholic) regardless of your activity level. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink. Warning: If your doctor generally limits the amount of fluid you drink or has you on water pills, ask him how much you should drink while the weather is hot.

  • Don’t drink liquids that contain alcohol or large amounts of sugar – these actually cause you to lose more body fluid. Also, avoid very cold drinks, because they can cause stomach cramps.
  • Stay indoors and, if at all possible, stay in an air conditioned place. If your home does not have air conditioning, go to the shopping mall or public library – even a few hours spent in air conditioning can help your body stay cooler when you go back into the heat. Call your local health department to see if there are any heat-relief shelters in your area.
  • Electric fans may provide comfort, but when the temperature is in the high 90’s, fans will not prevent heat-related illness. Taking a cool shower or bath, or moving to an air-conditioned place is a much better way to cool off.
  • Wear lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing.
  • NEVER leave anyone in a closed, parked vehicle.
  • Although any one at any time can suffer from heat-related illness, some people are at greater risk than others. Check regularly on:

o        Infants and young children

o        People aged 65 or older

o        People who have a mental illness

o        Those who are physically ill, especially with heart disease or high blood pressure

  • Visit adults at risk at least twice a day and closely watch them for signs of heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Infants and young children, of course, need much more frequent watching.

IF YOU MUST BE OUT IN THE HEAT:

  • Limit your outdoor activity to morning and evening hours.
  • Cut down on exercise. If you must exercise, drink two to four glasses of cool, non-alcoholic fluids each hour.  A sports beverage can replace the salt and minerals you lose in sweat. Warning: If you are on a low-salt diet, talk with your doctor before drinking a sports beverage.
  • Try to rest often in shady areas.
  • Protect yourself from the sun by wearing a wide-brimmed hat (also keeps you cooler,) sunglasses and by putting on a sunscreen of SPF 15 or higher – the most effective products say “broad spectrum” or “UVA/UVB protection” on their labels. For more information visit www.EPHealth.com and click on the Public Health Preparedness link.

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