As temperatures rise, Harford health officials warn of risks from heat-related illnesses


As temperatures climbed into the 90s around Harford County Memorial Day weekend, the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene activated its state heat emergency website to provide information about preventing heat-related illnesses.

The website includes links to the State Heat Plan, facts about heat-related illness and weekly heat reports that provide guidance and information about deaths and illnesses caused by extreme heat in the region.

With expectations of temperatures reaching the 90s along with high humidity and rising heat index, Harford County Health Officer Susan Kelly reminds individuals of all ages to be cautious when vigorously working or playing outdoors or during prolonged exposure to hot and humid weather conditions.

"Prolonged heat exposure can result in recreational as well as occupational illnesses and injuries," Kelly said in a news release. "People who work or recreate outside in direct exposure to the sun, or indoors in excessive heat for any extended period of time must be particularly mindful of the risks and be exceptionally careful."

Kelly also encourages everyone to remember to pay attention to family members, co-workers, friends and neighbors.

"Make sure they are taking the necessary precautions, especially if they are young, elderly or ill," she said.

According to the Harford Health Department, heat illness takes many forms, including heat fatigue, heat syncope (sudden dizziness after exercising in the heat), heat cramps, heat exhaustion or the most serious, heat stroke. Heat stroke is an advanced form of heat stress that occurs when the body is overwhelmed by heat and unable to control its temperature.

Someone with a body temperature above 104 degrees is likely suffering from heat stroke and may have symptoms of confusion, combativeness, strong rapid pulse, lack of sweating, dry flushed skin, faintness, staggering, possible delirium or coma. Seek immediate medical attention for a person with any of these symptoms, especially an older adult, the health department advises.

Basic strategies are key to preventing heat illness and are focused on limiting exposure to excessive heat, limiting activity and staying hydrated by drinking more non-caffeinated, non-alcoholic fluids than usual.

The risk for heat illness is a combination of the outside temperature along with the general health and lifestyle of the individual.

Health-related factors that may increase risk include:

• The inability to perspire, caused by medications such as diuretic's, sedatives, tranquilizers and certain heart and blood pressure drugs;

• Taking several drugs for various conditions. It is important, however, to continue to take prescribed medication and discuss possible problems with a physician;

• Being substantially overweight or underweight;

• Drinking alcoholic beverages;

• Being dehydrated;

• Age-related changes to the skin such as poor blood circulation and inefficient sweat glands;

• Heart, lung and kidney diseases, as well as any illness that causes general weakness or fever; and

• High blood pressure or other conditions that require changes in diet. For example, people on salt-restricted diets may be at an increased risk; however, salt pills should not be used without first consulting a doctor.

Lifestyle factors that also can increase risk include extremely hot living accommodations, lack of transportation, overdressing, visiting overcrowded places and not understanding how to respond to changing weather conditions.

Individuals at special risk should stay indoors on particularly hot and humid days, especially when there is an air pollution alert in effect. People without fans or air conditioners should go to places such as shopping malls, movie theaters, libraries or area cooling centers.

In addition to the State Heat Emergency web site, visit Harford County Health Department website,, or contact the Health Department, 410-612-1781.

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