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Safety tips during a heatwave

Three girls jump in the Ohrid Lake in Ohrid at sunset on July 12, 2012. ROBERT ATANASOVSKI/AFP/GettyImages

The results of scorching temperatures during a heat wave can be devastating. In 2003, over 40,000 people died in Europe during the hottest period on record in continental Europe since 1540. In July 1995, a heat wave in Chicago, IL, resulted in 750 heat-related deaths.

While many Canadians will be feeling the heat, some are more at risk of suffering health complications.

Here’s what you need to know about protecting yourself and your family in extreme heat.

Heat-vulnerable groups:
1) Older adults

2) Infants and young children

3) People with chronic illnesses

4) People who are physically impaired

5) Socially disadvantaged people and communities

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6) Newcomers to Canada and tourists

7) People who work outdoors

8) People who are physically active

9) Family pets

Heat wave health tips:

1) Drink plenty of water.
It is better to drink water that is cool, rather than extremely cold, as water that is too cold can cause stomach cramps.

2) Use ice to cool down.
Rubbing ice on the back of your neck can cool down your internal body temperature.

3) Seek out air conditioning.
Air conditioning is one way to protect yourself against heat-related health complications. If you don’t have AC, seek out public spaces that do, such as libraries, shopping malls, or cooling centres.

4) Take a cold shower.
If you don’t have access to an air conditioned space, take a cold shower or bath to lower your body temperature.

5) Know the signs.
Tell-tale signs of heat stroke include a lack of sweat, dry skin, headaches, and a rapid heart rate. Signs of heat exhaustion include heavy sweating, weakness, dizziness, nausea, and muscle cramps.

6) Limit physical activity.
If you must exercise in the heat, drink plenty of water, and try to keep your activities to shady areas.

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7) Get the gear.
Wear loose fitting, lightly coloured clothing. And always use sunscreen to protect yourself and your children from the sun.

8) Be car cautious.
Never leave anyone is a closed, parked vehicle, pets included! Temperatures inside a closed vehicle can reach potentially lethal levels, because the car acts like a greenhouse, trapping the heat inside.

Find out more about how extreme heat affects the body here. 

Children
Children are more vulnerable to heat stroke than adults are. Children absorb heat much faster than adults, and their bodies are not as efficient at expelling heat. Internal temperatures climb much faster and higher in children than in adults. A child with heat stroke can easily slip into an unconscious state. If you notice signs of heat stroke, act quickly. Call 911, move your child into a shaded or air conditioned area. Cool your child’s body down with a towel dipped in cool water. Don’t give your child anything to drink or any medications – wait until emergency services arrive.

Signs of heat stroke in children include:
– Having a temperature of 39.4° C or higher

– Lack of sweating

– Hot, red, dry skin

– Rapid heart rate

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– Lethargy

– Dizziness

– Headaches

– Vomitting

– Shallow breathing

– Unconsciousness

Pets
Cats and dogs can overheat in a shorter amount of time than people, because of their fur and size. Dogs have very few sweat glands. So, rather than sweating in order to cool themselves down, they pant. The problem is that panting isn’t efficient enough to cool them down in extreme heat.

To keep your dog cool during a heat wave make sure they have plenty of drinking water.

Never leave your dog in a parked car during high temperatures, as temperatures inside a car can reach upwards of 50° C quickly. Dogs can suffer brain injuries and organ damage in just 15 minutes in a hot car.

If you must walk your dog, do so in the early morning or late evening when the sun is not as strong.

Read more about pet safety during a heat wave here. 

Signs of heat stroke in dogs include:
– Heavy panting

– Lethargy

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– Excessive thirst

– Lack of coordination

– Vomiting

– Deep red or purple tongue

If your dog is showing signs of heat stroke, move the animal to a shaded or air conditioned space, immerse the dog in cool water, take the dog to a veterinarian as soon as possible.

Local cooling centres:
Toronto cooling centres

Winnipeg splash pads and public pools

Montreal cooling centres

– With files from Health Canada 

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