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Heat wave + pandemic: UN warns of public health risks this summer


The pandemic at Covid-19 is not over, let summer come. Specialists predict that it will be hot and that the scorching temperatures will break records. This is already the case this April and May in South-Eastern Europe, which suffocate. The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) warned on Tuesday 26 May of the health risks posed by the dual challenge of this summer's heat wave and the Covid-19 pandemic, and called on governments to prepare.

Heat-related health risks are likely to become more significant as the northern hemisphere is about to enter a summer season with high temperatures, warn WMO-supported health and climate experts. « Northern Hemisphere Summer Set to Set a New Record for Heat "said the spokesperson for theWMOClare Nullis Kapp, at an online press briefing in Geneva, adding that "... I'm very pleased to be here. Covid-19 amplifies heat-related health risks for many people. ".

Vulnerable to both Covid-19 and heat

Many categories of people are vulnerable to both Covid-19 and heat. These include people over 65 years of age and especially those over 85 years of age. Those suffering from underlying health problems such as cardiovascular, pulmonary and kidney disease, diabetes and obesity are also at risk, as are those suffering from mental health problems (psychiatric disorders, depression).

Essential workers who work outdoors during the hottest periods of the day or who work in areas where the temperature cannot be controlled are also vulnerable, as are health care workers wearing personal protective equipment.

Pregnant women and people living in long-term care facilities, especially without adequate cooling and ventilation, should also be monitored. Marginalized and isolated people (homeless, migrants with language barriers, elderly people living alone) and those with low incomes or inadequate housing are also at risk.

Although environmental conditions probably play a limited role in determining where and when Covid-19 occurs, heat can aggravate the consequences for patients with the virus and could increase transmission rates when people congregate outdoors and in public spaces. In addition, an influx of heat-affected patients into health care facilities can strain them at a time when many have already reached a breaking point because of Covid-19.

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In areas affected by a high number of Covid-19 cases, a severe heat episode could result in massive losses and significant health impacts. Public fear of seeking health care during the pandemic may delay care for non-Covid-19 related problems, even in cases of critical need. Such perception and behaviour could result in the avoidable death of vulnerable people who remain at home without adequate cooling (air conditioning, ventilation, drinking ...) and do not leave their homes for cooler conditions or health care.

What actions should be taken?

The experts, supported by the UN agency, call on governments to be more prepared for this summer to ensure the safety of people in hot weather without increasing the risk of spreading Covid-19.

All heat-related illnesses and deaths are preventable, WMO stresses. But in the context of Covid-19, approaches, communications and awareness must be tailored to local contexts, and coordination and preparation are needed.

" At the government level, increased heat coordination and preparedness, including the review and modification of heat plans and local policies, should take place now, before the heat season begins. ", says the UN agency.

Health care professionals and first responders should be trained to monitor for potential heat stress and should be aware of the additional heat hazards they may face when wearing personal protective equipment and working in hot conditions.

" Reducing the number of people developing heat-related illnesses should be a priority to help minimize admissions to already overburdened hospitals. "said Joy Shumake-Guillemot, Head of the joint World Health Organization (WHO) and WMO Climate and Health Office.

" Municipal authorities and health care professionals may face difficult choices about how to balance preventing the spread of infection while protecting people from the dangerously hot conditions in which they live. ", acknowledged Ms. Shumake-Guillemot.

Heat + humidity + Covid = an explosive cocktail

Several studies agree that there has been an increase in the number of intense heat waves coupled with abnormal humidity levels. Researchers have just published a post alarming in Science Advances. They found that the number of potentially fatal heat and moisture events doubled between 1979 and 2017, and is increasing in both frequency and intensity.
The study reveals that these intolerable episodes of extreme heat and humidity, which could threaten human survival, are on the rise worldwide, suggesting that the worst-case warning scenario of the consequences of global warming is already underway.

These disturbing results surprise scientists because earlier studies had predicted that such extreme weather events would occur later this century, mainly in tropical and subtropical regions where humidity is already a problem. « Previous studies predicted that this would happen in several decades, but this shows that it is happening now. "said to the Guardian lead author Colin Raymond of Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. « The duration of these events will increase, and the areas they affect will expand in direct correlation with global warming. ".

In dry conditions, the body transpires excess heat through the skin, where it then evaporates. Moisture hinders evaporation, and can even stop it completely in extreme conditions. If the body's core overheats, organs can quickly begin to fail and cause death within hours. This situation is aggravated when it occurs at the same time as a pandemic such as the Covid-19.

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Source: UN/WMO

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