Understanding Heatwave Deaths: Causes of Heat Stroke and Essential Safety Measures

Understanding Heatwave Deaths: Causes of Heat Stroke and Essential Safety Measures
Posted on 21-06-2023

Understanding Heatwave Deaths: Causes of Heat Stroke and Essential Safety Measures

Heatwave deaths have been making headlines as temperatures soar in various regions, prompting concerns about public health and safety. Recently, Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya convened a meeting with officials from the India Meteorological Department, National Disaster Management Authority, and the Health Ministry to address this issue. In this article, we will explore the meaning of heatwaves, their impact on the human body, and crucial tips to stay safe during such extreme weather conditions.


What is a Heatwave?

A heatwave refers to a condition in which air temperatures reach levels that can be fatal to the human body when exposed for extended periods. Quantitatively, heatwaves are defined based on temperature thresholds, either in terms of the actual temperature or its deviation from normal. In some countries, heatwaves are defined using the heat index, which takes into account temperature and humidity, or extreme percentile temperatures.


Criteria for Declaring a Heatwave:

The criteria for declaring a heatwave vary based on the geographical region. For plains, a heatwave is considered if the maximum temperature reaches at least 40°C or higher, while for hilly regions, it is 30°C or higher. In coastal areas, a heatwave may be described if the maximum temperature departure from the normal is 4.5°C or more, provided the actual maximum temperature is 37°C or higher. Heatwaves in India primarily occur from March to June, with May being the peak month. The most affected areas are the plains of northwest India, central India, and the east and north peninsular regions.


Monitoring Heatwaves by the India Meteorological Department (IMD):

The IMD maintains a vast network of surface observatories across the country to measure various meteorological parameters such as temperature, relative humidity, pressure, wind speed, and direction. Based on the daily maximum temperature data from these stations, a climatology of maximum temperature is created for each station, using the period 1981-2010. Heatwaves are declared by the IMD based on their definition and the observed temperature conditions.


Impact of Heatwaves on the Human Body:

Heatwaves can have severe consequences on the human body, leading to heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Heat exhaustion occurs when the body sweats excessively in an attempt to regulate its core temperature, leaving individuals drained and fatigued. Heat stroke, on the other hand, arises when the ambient temperature is so high that the body is unable to cool down through sweating. This results in a rapid rise in core temperature, exceeding 40°C. Heat stroke causes imbalances in crucial salts like sodium and potassium in the body, disrupting organ functions. Symptoms may include confusion, drowsiness, coma, and damage to the brain, kidneys, and liver. In extreme cases, heat stroke can be fatal.


Preventing Heat Stroke:

To prevent heat stroke, it is crucial to reduce the core body temperature as quickly as possible. This can be achieved by pouring cold water over the person, giving them cold drinks, and providing electrolytes to restore salt balance. Additionally, it is advisable to avoid direct sunlight, especially between noon and 3 pm when temperatures are at their peak. Engaging in strenuous physical activity during this time should be avoided.


As heatwave deaths continue to be a concern, understanding the causes and risks associated with heat stroke is essential. By being aware of the symptoms and following preventive measures, such as staying hydrated, seeking shade, and avoiding excessive exertion during extreme heat, individuals can protect themselves from the adverse effects of heatwaves. Public awareness, prompt medical attention, and coordinated efforts from meteorological and health authorities are vital in mitigating the impact of heatwaves on human health.

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