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For Release: Aug. 3, 2011 – Pamela Williams, Office of Communications – 405/271-5601

Oklahoma Department of Health Issues Public Health Warning on Heat

As dangerously high temperatures continue across the state, the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) is urging people to take proper precautions to protect themselves during the extreme heat and seek out options to cool down within their communities. Over exposure to heat can be deadly and 11 Oklahomans have already died this summer due to heat-related causes. Due to an extended forecast of triple digit temperatures, the OSDH is also urging schools to make modifications to outdoor practices and activities until the heat indices drop to a safer level.

Public health officials stress that extreme heat affects everyone. All persons should be aware of the following signs of heat-related illness: headache, dizziness, muscle weakness or cramps, nausea and vomiting, and fatigue, which may last more than 24 hours.

Heat-related illness occurs when the body’s temperature control system is overloaded.  This can be especially dangerous for the elderly, infants and children, homeless and poor, people with a chronic medical condition and those who work and exercise outdoors. In the Oklahoma City and Tulsa metropolitan areas, EMSA reports a number of heat-related emergency runs have been made to transport 25- to 60-year-olds who have been engaged in outdoor activities. EMSA also reports numerous calls related to the elderly who may be in homes with no air conditioning, or who have turned the air conditioning off in fear of high electric bills. Health officials urge those who are concerned about their electric bill to contact their electric company to discuss payment options.

The OSDH offers the following safety tips:

  • Drink more fluids (non-alcoholic), regardless of your activity level. Don’t wait until you are thirsty to drink. Warning: If your doctor generally limits the amount of fluid you drink or has you on water pills, ask him/her how much you should drink while the weather is hot.
  • Stay indoors and, if at all possible, stay in an air-conditioned place. If your home does not have air conditioning, go to the movies, shopping mall, public library, or a friend’s house/apartment with air conditioning. Even a few hours spent in an air-conditioned environment can help your body stay cooler when you go back into the heat.
  • Electric fans may provide comfort, but when the temperature is in the high 90s, fans will not prevent heat-related illness. Taking a cool shower or bath, or moving to an air-conditioned place is a much better way to cool off.
  • If you must be out in the heat, limit your outdoor activity to early morning and evening hours. It’s important that people take frequent breaks when engaged in outdoor activities. Drink a lot of fluids, stay indoors or in the shade when it’s most hot, and wear lightweight, loose-fitting clothing.
  • NEVER leave anyone or an animal in a closed, parked vehicle.
  • Protect yourself from the sun by wearing a wide-brimmed hat (also keeps you cooler) and sunglasses and by putting on sunscreen of SPF 15 or higher (the most effective products say “UVA/UVB protection” on their labels).
  • Churches, community organizations and neighborhood groups should check on members most at risk for heat-related illness to make sure they are protected during this period of extreme heat and humidity.

For more information on heat safety, visit www.health.ok.gov.

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