Climate change and health: Extreme heat

Extreme heat

A changing climate can mean longer and more intense heat events that can be dangerous for the health of Canadians. Health Canada is working to improve heat resiliency across Canada.

Health Canada has developed resources which are available to help health and emergency management communities inform Canadians about recognizing, preparing for, and adapting to extreme heat events.

Extreme heat events, or heat waves, are a potentially significant health risk as illustrated by heat wave tragedies in Europe (2003) and in Chicago (1995), which killed more than 70,000 and 700 people respectively.

Extreme heat events are also posing a growing public health risk in Canada, as a result of a changing climate.

Three major reports conclude that many regions in Canada are likely facing extreme heat events of increasing intensity, duration and frequency.

By implementing appropriate preparation measures such as effective heat alert and response systems, the health risks of extreme heat can be minimized.

The cities of Toronto and Montreal provide examples of developed heat alert and response systems in Canada and many elements from these systems can be adapted for use elsewhere.

How to transfer these models to other communities which may be urban or rural, presents challenges given the differences in technical, financial and institutional capabilities.

In 2007, the Government of Canada announced its intention to help Canadians adapt to a changing climate. Health Canada launched a heat resiliency project to assist Canadians in coping with extreme heat by strengthening the capacity of communities, health care workers, and individuals to manage heat-related health risks.

These goals will be accomplished in five main ways.

  1. Heat-Health Messaging: Effective, science-based messages are being developed to increase awareness among Canadians of the effects of heat on their health and how they can protect themselves.
  2. Heat-Health Science: Canadian-based research is being conducted for municipalities to improve the science behind calling a heat alert, and to determine the effectiveness of protective actions that people can take against the effects of heat on health.
  3. Information for Health Care Workers: Knowledge gaps are being identified and addressed to help health care workers prevent, diagnose and manage heat-related illnesses. Findings will be integrated into guidelines for health care workers regarding extreme heat events.
  4. Pilot Heat Alert and Response Systems: Through this community-driven project, Health Canada will design, implement, and evaluate the effectiveness of heat alert and response systems, in partnership with four urban and rural Canadian communities. Heat alert and response systems effectively protect people from extreme heat. Through the pilots, Health Canada will develop guidelines that allow smaller urban and rural communities, as well as large cities, to develop their own heat alert and response systems. A guidebook on heat alert and response systems will be made available to public health and emergency management officials across Canada.
  5. Partnerships: Partners and stakeholders are coming together through a Community Sharing Network to build knowledge and create information products that can be shared and distributed.

By 2011, the heat resiliency project will provide to Canadians the following:

  • Pilot Heat Alert and Response Systems in four Canadian communities
  • A Best Practices Guidebook on Heat Alert and Response Systems
  • Guidelines for Health Care Workers regarding Extreme Heat Events
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