Heat-related safety in a pandemic environment
June 3, 2021 - Defence Stories
As warmer weather begins across Canada many of us have been spending more time outside, as indoor spaces have intermittently closed or limited their capacity to help reduce the spread of COVID-19. However, we need to remember that the heat can impose risks to our health if we do not take extra precautions to reduce the risk of developing a heat-related illness.
Many of us have had to change our daily routines in response to the pandemic, which for some has resulted in physical deconditioning, a factor that can increase the risk of a heat-related illness. Fortunately, these illnesses can be prevented by following preventive health measures which will allow us to have a safer and more enjoyable summer in the heat.
The following steps can help reduce the risk of a heat-related illness:
- know the outdoor heat conditions in your area
- be aware of your own risk factors and modify them, where possible
- schedule outdoor work or exercise during the coolest parts of the day
- acclimatize your body to physical exertion in the heat
- don’t overdo it – match your physical effort in the heat to your fitness level
- stay hydrated – water is best
- take breaks in the shade
Recognizing heat-related illness in yourself and those around you is also important, so members can receive appropriate care to help their condition improve. Symptoms can range from mild to very severe. Mild conditions can still be extremely uncomfortable. One example is a heat rash, a localized itchy skin condition. Severe conditions such as heat exhaustion and heat stroke, are far more serious and can lead to hospitalization, or even death. Signs of confusion or altered consciousness in elevated temperatures, could indicate heat-related illness and attempts should be made to cool the person. Heat stroke is a medical emergency, if you suspect someone may be experiencing it, immediately call for medical assistance.
Health Canada’s signs and symptoms of a significant heat-related illness are:
- dizziness or fainting
- nausea or vomiting
- rapid breathing and heartbeat
- extreme thirst
- decreased urination with unusually dark yellow urine
If you experience any of these symptoms while working or exercising in the heat, move to a cool place immediately and drink liquids, preferably water.
Different factors can affect how people respond to conditions and their environment. Although developing a serious heat-related illness like heat stroke depends on a number of factors, the risk of serious illness increases as temperature and humidity levels rise. Doing strenuous work or exercise for longer periods of time in the heat also increases the risk.
The following are individual risk factors that may make one person at greater risk than another:
- Current illness
- Sleep deprivation
- Lack of adaptation to heat
- Drug/alcohol intake
- Poor physical fitness
- Prior heat-related illness
- Personal protective equipment and clothing that reduce cooling
- Certain medications and nutritional supplements
For more information, visit Health Canada’s webpage on risks and prevention of heat-related illnesses. Talk to your primary care provider if you have specific questions about your own risk.
Enjoy the warm weather, and continue to protect yourself from the heat and COVID-19.
- Defence Administrative Orders and Directives 5021-2, Heat Stress
- CANFORGEN 066/21 Surgeon General Advisory – Prevention of Heat-Related Illness (accessible only on the National Defence network)
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