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Sunday, Aug. 19, 2012
Japanese heat wave
This summer has been one of the hottest on record. In Japan, the number of heatstroke victims hit record levels. The Fire and Disaster Management Agency reported July had the highest number of people taken to hospitals by ambulances for heatstroke ever, more than 21,000 people.
Of those, nearly half were in the most at-risk group of people aged 65 and older. The number of deaths from heatstroke in July was 39, also the highest number on record.
Cases of heat exhaustion and heatstroke rose in the early part of the summer as many people tried to curb electricity use to avoid power shortages. Temperatures soared three to four degrees higher than the 30-year average amid high humidity.
Workplaces as well as homes set their air conditioning at a higher temperature. Many people either do not own or do not want to use an air conditioner. All of that contributed to the large number of cases of heat-related illness and death.
The signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion should be part of everyone's common knowledge and daily checklist in summer: dark-colored or decreased urine, headache, nausea, rapid pulse, weakness or dizziness, fatigue and dry mouth.
Anyone who suspects that he or she has heat exhaustion should immediately take fluids, cease physical activity, and rest in a cool, shaded area. Those three steps can save lives.
Dehydration can occur rapidly in summer weather, and even more rapidly in Japan's high humidity, so heat exhaustion should be closely monitored. People can regulate themselves, but everyone should increase the intake of water or sports drinks, which can help replenish electrolytes before symptoms appear.
The human body's weight is 75 percent from water, so water intake must equal water loss. Less physical activity means losing less water. A cool place helps the body to regulate itself.
If heat exhaustion is not treated, it can quickly lead to heatstroke, a serious, life-threatening condition. The signs of heatstroke begin with those of heat exhaustion, but then become more aggravated and can include high body temperature, absence of sweating or hot, red skin, rapid pulse, difficulty breathing, as well as confusion, agitation, or disorientation.
A suspected heatstroke is a medical emergency and help should be found immediately.
While cutting back on the use of air conditioning is an admirable goal, the elderly and children should be extremely careful to keep themselves in comfortable, cool conditions. Those taking certain types of medicine should also be careful, since many medicines can contribute to loss of fluids and mask the symptoms.
Even healthy, young people on vacation from schools should pay attention to their fluid intake, especially when pursuing outdoor sports. Two baseball players from Gifu were hospitalized after their team won a round toward the National High School Baseball Championship.
Whatever one's age or situation, this summer demands extra caution, extra water and plenty of shade.