Here’s How Quickly Extreme Heat Can Affect Your Health

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Dangerous heat waves in the United States and abroad are resulting in record numbers of fatalities.
Experts say these events need to be recognized for what they are: natural disasters.
According to Ready, a national public service campaign, cities are the most at risk, with heat waves causing more deaths than any other weather-related disaster.
“With disasters, we think of things like tornadoes and hurricanes and floods and wildfires. They are all very important, but they aren’t the only natural disasters that are out there. We’re not really focusing on the ones that are temperature related,” said Dr. David Eisenman, associate professor of medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, professor of public health at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, and director of the UCLA Center for Public Health and Disasters.
Eisenman pointed out that heat waves often get very different coverage in the media.
“They don’t make the newspaper in the same way because they don’t have the same dramatic photos of cars being overturned, and bridges wiped out, and trees uprooted that other kinds of disasters do,” he said.
These disasters, known as extreme heat events, have this year killed at least 77 people in Japan. At least 70 deaths have been attributed to extreme heat in the Quebec province of Canada, alone.
Meanwhile, much of the United States is engulfed in abnormally high temperatures, resulting in several deaths — including a high-profile incident in Los Angeles where a United States Postal Service worker was found dead in her truck from heatstroke.
However, heat-related deaths can be harder to track because, as the Environmental Protection Agency points out, “these deaths may not be reported as ‘heat-related’ on death certificates.”
“In a four- or five-day heat event, we estimate that there will be an extra approximate 50 to 60 people in Los Angeles who die due to it,” said Eisenman.
Extreme heat events are also becoming more common. This year will likely become the fourth hottest on record, preceded only by 2015, 2016, and 2017.
Experts point to only a couple of well-known extreme heat events that illustrate how dangerous they can become.
The 1995 Chicago heat wave resulted in over 700 deaths and permanently changed how the city responds to such events since then.
In 2003, a heat wave swept across Europe that killed more than 70,000.