New Epidemic Extreme Heat and Its Profound Effects on Human Health

Subarna Debbarma (BPT, DNHE)
Extreme heat

Extreme heat, characterized by scorching temperatures and prolonged periods of elevated heat, have become increasingly common due to climate change. These heatwaves pose a significant threat to human health, with potentially life-threatening consequences. Understanding the profound effects of extreme heat on human health is crucial in developing strategies to mitigate its impact and protect vulnerable populations.

The Rising Threat of Extreme Heat

As global temperatures continue to rise, the frequency, intensity, and duration of extreme heat events are also on the ascent. These heatwaves have the potential to disrupt ecosystems, strain energy resources, and, most alarmingly, jeopardize human health.

Extreme heat map

According to World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), as they regularly release updated climate data, over the past century, the Earth's average surface temperature has risen significantly. The period from the late 20th century onwards has seen particularly rapid warming.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reported that the global average surface temperature for the period from 2011 to 2020 was approximately 1.09°C (1.96°F) higher than the pre-industrial baseline (1850-1900).

Extreme Heat and Human Health

1. Heat-Related Illnesses:

   - Heat Exhaustion: This condition results from prolonged exposure to high temperatures, leading to symptoms such as heavy sweating, rapid pulse, nausea, and weakness.

   - Heat Stroke: Heat stroke is a severe and life-threatening condition where the body's core temperature exceeds 104°F (40°C). Symptoms include confusion, rapid breathing, and loss of consciousness. Without immediate medical attention, it can be fatal.

2. Cardiovascular Stress:

   - Extreme heat can strain the cardiovascular system, leading to an increase in heart attacks and other cardiovascular-related illnesses. The body tries to cool itself through increased blood flow to the skin, placing extra stress on the heart.

3. Respiratory Issues:

   - High temperatures can worsen air quality, leading to an increase in respiratory problems, particularly for individuals with pre-existing conditions like asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

4. Dehydration and Heat-Related Hydration Issues:

   - Prolonged exposure to extreme heat can lead to dehydration, which can result in kidney problems, heat cramps, and heat-related hyponatremia (a condition where the body's sodium levels drop dangerously low).

5. Mental Health Implications:

   - Extreme heat can have detrimental effects on mental health, leading to increased stress, anxiety, and irritability. Additionally, heat can exacerbate existing mental health conditions.

Vulnerable Populations at Risk

Certain groups are more susceptible to the effects of extreme heat:

   - Elderly individuals

   - Children

   - People with pre-existing medical conditions

   - Outdoor workers

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