‘Take this seriously’: Kelowna emergency doctor on unprecedented heat wave

Okanagan residents are being urged to take precautions against heat-related illnesses. Lewis Joly / The Associated Press

As the Okanagan experiences an unprecedented heat wave, an emergency physician at Kelowna General Hospital is urging the public to take the weather seriously.

“They can be very dangerous,” Dr. Jeff Eppler said of the scorching temperatures.

Eppler said there’s been an increase in the amount of patients accessing emergency care since the heat wave began.

Read more: Western Canada’s extreme heat wave: Some experts have ‘never seen’ anything like it

“We’re definitely seeing more people coming in with heat-related illnesses,” Eppler told Global News.

“Some of them quite sick, some of them are mild, some cramping or fatigue or nausea and headache — but we’re definitely seeing more people.”

Temperatures in many regions across B.C. have been record-breaking, including the Okanagan, where highs in some communities are hovering close to 45 Celsius.

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Cooling centres have opened across B.C. to help people cope with the extreme heat, including Kelowna.

“Nice to have this place to cool off,” said senior Bob Duplessis. “It’s wonderful. It’s a good idea. This place should be open on a lot more occasions like this.”

There have been dozens of sudden deaths in B.C since the heat wave began.

According to police, there have been 25 deaths in Burnaby alone in the last 24 hours, with many of the deaths believed to be heat-related.

“It’s a bit alarming, actually, this heat wave, and the fact that it’s going to go on for a while,” said Eppler.

Read more: Rise in heat-related deaths and calls in B.C. strains emergency services

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There are numerous heat-related illnesses that can lead to people getting heatstroke.

‘They start to get changes in the mental functioning, so they may be altered or confused or delirious,” Eppler said.

“They may be drowsy, they may even be comatose from the heat. That’s what we call heatstroke. And, of course, that is very dangerous and can definitely lead to death or serious injury.”

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Eppler said while the older population is more at risk, anyone can be susceptible.

He added that limiting outdoor exposure is key as well as drinking plenty of fluids, including electrolytes for those exerting themselves and sweating a lot.

“It’s important to drink water, but you also want to replace electrolytes. So certainly if you’re spending a lot of time outdoors exerting yourself, doing exercises, you want to have some kind of proper electrolyte solution,” he said.

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“Not just water because if you’re just drinking water you’re not replacing salt, so you can actually create electrolyte disturbances in the body.”

While temperatures are expected to drop slightly later this week, it looks like the heat wave is here to stay at least another week.

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