Sweating out the heat wave

Toll: Pregnant mothers and the young are particularly vulnerable to dehydration.

July 27, 2005|By Annie Linskey | Annie Linskey,SUN STAFF

The heat was stifling even at 11 a.m. yesterday when Eileen Marmon, a registered nurse, pulled her red Nissan up to an Annapolis rowhouse.

Carrying a tote bag stuffed with material about pregnancy and a bottle of cool water, she marched up the concrete steps and knocked on the door.

Erika Prophet, 22, who is expecting twins any day now, staggered to the door and invited Marmon to sit down.

"Are you drinking enough water?" asked Marmon. She whipped out the bottle of water and placed it on a table next to an empty soda bottle.

When the weather heats up, most attention tends to focus on the health of the elderly, but pregnant women and infants are also particularly vulnerable to dehydration on hot days, said Frances B. Phillips, Anne Arundel County's health officer.

"I think it is important to focus on populations beyond the elderly," Phillips said.

Others at risk include construction workers and people who work outside - away from the air conditioning provided in most offices and homes, Phillips said.

In the past few weeks, the region has endured a heat wave with temperatures reaching the high 90s and pushing to the triple digits in areas.

As of July 20, the state Health Department had reported 11 heat-related deaths statewide, significantly more than the four reported all of last summer.

So Marmon, one of six Anne Arundel community nurses who regularly visit pregnant women and new mothers, hammered on one theme in her home visit yesterday: Stay hydrated.

In pregnant women, severe dehydration can induce pre-term contractions and deliveries, Marmon said. It can also cause stomach cramps that can be mistaken for labor.

Infants' body temperatures rise faster than those of adults, so they overheat quickly, said Marmon. She reminds parents to be on the lookout for sluggish behavior in their children.

Marmon finds that most young mothers are careful about keeping their homes cool.

She also finds that most of her clients stay out of the heat during the day.

"When it is hot like this, we find more people home," she said. "A lot of the girls don't have cars, so to take the bus on day like this would be too much."

Those with transportation tend to flock to the malls in weather like this - not so much for the shopping but for the air-conditioning, Marmon said.

Prophet, who has four other children, ages 7 to 1, at home, needs to be particularly careful in the heat because hers is a high-risk pregnancy. She had contractions last week and is now on bed rest.

She is doing a good job keeping the house cool. The shades are drawn in the living room and the air conditioner hums.

"I keep it on all the time," Prophet said. "You can't save energy when it is hot like this."

But you can't always control how much energy you have, either. Last week, Annapolis experienced a power outage in the middle of the day.

"It felt like a sauna in here," Prophet said, adding that within 10 to 15 minutes the house heated up.

Marmon asked whether Prophet had a plan if the power went out.

Prophet didn't have an answer. "I really hope it doesn't happen," she said.

Marmon continued to ask questions - many about doctors' appointments and tests and vitamins, but she always came back to the heat. "Are you drinking enough water?" she asked again.

In warm weather, it is also critical to make sure young children stay cool and are dressed in loose-fitting clothes, Marmon said.

She was glad to hear that Prophet's children have a wading pool down the street at her mother's house.

And she was glad to see that Prophet's children - one boy and three girls - were dressed in loose cotton dresses and T-shirts.

Marmon also cautions mothers not to overwrap babies.

"Keep them in a cool space, don't do too much, especially midday," she said.

Prophet's children sucked on Popsicles and played with each other as their mother chatted with the nurse.

They don't mind the warm weather really, Prophet said.

And neither does she. What she doesn't like, Prophet said, is having to sit inside all day.

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