The Ministry of Health and Wellness is reminding the public that excessive heat stress is harmful to health and is potentially fatal.
Jamaica, as other countries in the Caribbean, has a heat season that is typically between May and October each year. This year, extremely high temperatures are being recorded. The public is, therefore, advised to take precautionary measures to reduce exposure to heat and limit the serious effects it can have on the body.
“Heat-related illnesses include heat exhaustion, heat rash, heat (muscle) cramps, and the most severe illness, heat stroke. Heat Stroke may be fatal,” cautioned Dr. Nicole Dawkins-Wright, Director of Emergency, Disaster Management and Special Services at the Ministry of Health and Wellness.
Signs associated with a heat stroke include a very high body temperature (above 103 degrees Fahrenheit), hot and dry skin, a throbbing headache and dizziness. Other signs include altered mental state or behaviour, nausea, vomiting, flushed skin, rapid breathing, and a racing heart rate.
“If any of these signs are noted, seek medical assistance immediately while finding ways to cool down the person, such as sponging with cold water, wrapping the person in a wet, cold sheet and fanning the person vigorously,” advised Dawkins-Wright.
Extreme heat stress may also trigger decompensation in some medical conditions, such as diabetes and hypertension. Some persons are also at greater risk of being affected by heat. Among the most vulnerable are the elderly, as well as infants and children younger than six years of age, persons who are overweight and those with pre-existing medical conditions.
In order to prevent illness associated with the heat, members of the public are encouraged to:
- Hydrate with cool water, especially when it is hot and humid;
- Drink more fluids, limit or avoid sugar-sweetened drinks and beverages that contain alcohol;
- Drink more water than normal before, during and after vigorous activities (at least 15 minutes before, and take fluid breaks at least every 15 minutes);
- Exercise indoors where possible;
- Drink more water than normal if one is exposed to heat for long periods (greater than two hours);
- Avoid the sun during the middle of the day, such as by limiting, as much as possible, outdoor activities to mornings and evenings; and seeking out shade when outdoors; and
- Wear light-weight, light-coloured, loose-fitting clothes made of breathable fabrics.
The public is also advised to avoid crowded locations and ensure that their homes are well ventilated.