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Parkland physicians offer tips to stay safe, cool this summer

Soaring temperatures combined with higher risk of exposure to COVID-19 for unvaccinated people due to new variants could be a recipe for danger, according to Parkland Health & Hospital System physicians.

“People want to get back to some sort of normalcy,” said Joe Chang, MD, Parkland’s Chief Medical Officer. “But we also need to remember that with COVID case numbers climbing again, we’re still in this pandemic and we should exercise caution and continue to wear a mask when around those who haven’t been vaccinated. Everyone age 12 and over should get vaccinated as soon as possible to protect themselves and others.”

For those wanting to go on vacation who haven’t received their COVID-19 vaccination, Parkland is offering vaccines for those 12 years and older without an appointment. A valid ID is required, and all minors must be accompanied by a parent or guardian authorized to consent for the minor. COVID-19 vaccines are available at the following location:

  • Ellis Davis Field House, 9191 S. Polk St., Dallas, 75232 between 7:30 a.m. and 4 p.m., Monday – Saturday.

If you’re working directly in the sun and near someone who hasn’t been vaccinated, opt for a light-colored mask, as darker colored ones will absorb more heat. Carry a spare (or two); if your mask gets sweaty, swap it out for a clean one. Wetness decreases the protection of the mask and can make it even more uncomfortable.

Hot weather causes an average of 702 deaths nationwide each year, according to a new report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), based on data from 2004 through 2018. Most of the deaths (90%) occurred from May to September and about 70% of the victims were men. More than a third of those who died (37%) lived in Texas, Arizona and California. Since 2010, Parkland Memorial Hospital has treated more than 540 patients with heat-related diagnoses in its emergency department.

“Even short periods of high temperatures can cause serious health problems. Doing too much on a hot day, spending too much time in the sun or staying too long in an overheated place can cause heat-related illnesses,” said Gilberto Salazar, MD, Parkland Emergency Physician and Associate Professor of Emergency Medicine at UT Southwestern Medical Center. “It’s important to use common sense – if you think you are overheated, you probably are.”

Heat exhaustion occurs when people are exposed to high temperatures and when the body loses fluids and becomes dehydrated. When heat exhaustion elevates it may result in heat stroke, a life-threatening medical condition occurring when the body’s cooling system, which is controlled by the brain, stops working. The resulting high body temperature causes damage to internal organs, including the brain, and could result in death.

“Elderly people aged 65 years and older, infants, children and people with chronic medical conditions are more prone to heat stress,” Dr. Salazar said. “Therefore it’s important for family or neighbors to visit an adult at risk at least twice a day and closely watch them for signs of heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Infants and young children, of course, need much more frequent watching.”

It’s also important for people who work outdoors to pay attention to signs of heat exhaustion or heat stroke, Dr. Salazar said. “Individuals including first responders, construction workers, landscapers and others whose jobs require them to be outside need to be especially careful this time of the year,” he said.

Symptoms of heat stroke include thirst; red, warm and dry skin; body temperature over 104 degrees Fahrenheit; fast breathing and heart rate; vomiting; muscle cramps; confusion or disorientation and coma.

“If you see any of the warning signs of heat stroke, you may be dealing with a life-threatening emergency,” Dr. Salazar cautioned. “Have someone call 911 for immediate medical assistance while you begin cooling the victim.”

Dr. Salazar offered the following tips to help a heat stroke victim before medical assistance arrives:

  • Get the victim to a shady area
  • Cool the victim rapidly but avoid an ice bath using whatever methods you can. For example, place the person in a cool shower; spray the victim with cool water from a garden hose; sponge the person with cool water; or if the humidity is low, wrap the victim in a cool, wet sheet and fan him or her vigorously
  • Monitor body temperature and continue cooling efforts until the body temperature drops to 101-102 degrees Fahrenheit
  • It is safe to give victims fluid if they are alert and conscious
  • If there is vomiting, make sure the airway remains open by turning the victim on his or her side
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