Thanks to Shane Granger for sending the link to this post on The Conversation by an Australian forensic pathologist: Death in a hot climate: southern heatwave to take its toll. He tells us what the impact of the recent high temperatures is likely to be. Excerpt:
Hopefully the southern Australian heatwave is coming to an end – for now. But for health-care providers and death investigators, such as me, the fallout will continue for some time to come.
It’s unclear what toll the current heatwave will take on human life but we know that when the temperature exceeds 32.2C for three or more consecutive days (considered a heatwave), the rate of heat-related illness and unexpected death rises.
The European heatwave of 2003 resulted in between 22,000 and 45,000 deaths in excess of those expected for that time of year. Similarly, in Victoria in 2009, there were 374 “extra” deaths beyond what would have been expected over the summer.
Many of the excess deaths occur two or three days after the heatwave starts, as the physiological stress of the heat accumulates and takes its toll on those vulnerable individuals in our community.
The elderly and the very young, in particular, are unable to react adequately to high ambient temperatures. Individuals who are very obese, very malnourished or have poor physical fitness are also more physically vulnerable to extreme heat.
A range of medications and illicit drugs may also reduce the body’s capacity to react to heat or increase the stress effects of heat, placing a person at increased risk of heat-related illness and death.