Summer heat could lead to illness, death

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 15, 2001

Staff Writer

As the thermometer rises, so does the risk for death and nobody is immune to the sun’s rays.

Just this week, a 3-year-old Texas boy died after becoming trapped in a sport utility vehicle as the temperature approached 100 degrees. It was about 97 degrees, meaning the temperature inside the vehicle could have reached 150 degrees.

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Alabama is experiencing those same high temperatures, which could lead to heat-related injuries or, even death.

Last summer, a 10-month-old Huntsville girl died after being left alone in a car. In about an hour, she was killed by "heat toxicity."

In 1999 at least 30 children died during the summer months because of being trapped inside vehicles. The year before, at least 18 children died from heat stroke when they were trapped in hot cars.

According to a survey by the National SAFE KIDS Campaign in 1999, 10 percent of parents believed it was all right to leave a child unattended in a vehicle.

That belief can be deadly.

When the temperature outside is 93 degrees the temperature inside a vehicle can reach 125 degrees ­ even with a cracked window ­ in just 20 minutes and about 140 degrees in 40 minutes.

Although some of the deaths are because an adult has left the child in the vehicle, there have been reported cases, like the one in Texas, when a child crawled into an unlocked car. More than half of the deaths reported in 1999 occurred when the child was playing in a parked vehicle.

Some safety tips that could save a child’s life include:

· Keep cars, especially trunks, locked at all times, even in the garage or driveway.

· Teach children not to play in or around cars.

· Never leave a child in an unattended car, even with the windows down.

· Always make sure that all child passengers have left the car.

· If a child gets locked inside a car, get the child out and dial 9-1-1 immediately.

· Make sure you check the temperature of the car seat surface and safety belt buckles before restraining a child because they can cause burns.

· Put car keys out of the reach of children.

· Be wary of child restraint locks. Teach older children how to disable the driver’s door locks if they unintentionally become entrapped in a motor vehicle.

· Contact your automobile dealership about getting your vehicle retrofitted with a truck release mechanism.

While parked cars can obviously become deadly playgrounds quickly, so can running and playing, which is not limited to children.

Adults who work or exercise outside should also pay close attention to the heat.

Dr. Patricia Block, a pediatrician with Charles Henderson Child Health Center, offers some advice for young and old.

She recommends curtailing outdoor activities between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., which is the hottest part of the day.

"Our body temperature must be maintained within a very narrow range," Block said. "Since high temperature and high humidity conditions result in ineffective cooling of the body, the risk of heat disorders increases."

If an individual fails to adequately replace sweat water loss, he or she can suffer three major heat disorders: cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

Heat exhaustion is characterized by dizziness, headache, visual disturbances, nausea and vomiting, possible fainting and flushed, moist skin.

Heat stroke, which can be fatal, can be recognized by the following symptoms: hot, dry, pale skin with a moist, flushed appearance; high body temperature; confusion; agitation; rapid breathing; racing pulse; lethargy; seizures and prolonged unconsciousness.

Anyone experiencing the symptoms of heat stroke should be treated by a medical professional.

But, there are ways to prevent heat-related illnesses, such as limiting outdoor activity during midday; wearing loose fitting, lightweight, light colored clothing and drinking plenty of water.