Summer heatwaves will claim lives: professor

20 December, 2012

Brisbane ambos can expect 20 per cent more call-outs to people with cardiovascular, respiratory and other chronic conditions in sweltering temperatures, QUT public health researcher Professor Shilu Tong from QUT's IHBI has said.

"Every degree in temperature above 22 degrees brings a 1.2 per cent rise in ambulance call-outs for people with underlying conditions." Professor Tong said.

Pregnant women are also at a higher risk of pre-term or stillborn births as the temperature rise, Associate Professor Adrian Barnett, also from IHBI, said.

"The first heatwave of summer is always the worst for those who are already unwell. This is because a lot of those people are killed and not around for the heatwaves later in summer," he said.

"Heatwaves together with power cuts are very serious not just for sick people.

"We had better get used to days like this, because climate change is predicted to increase the intensity and frequency of heat waves in Australia."

QUT emergency medicine expert Professor Gerard Fitzgerald was Queensland's Chief Health Officer back in 2004 when a Brisbane heatwave claimed more than 80 lives.

"The best advice is to keep drinking fluids," he said.

"Drink lots of water and monitor your urine - if it's dark, drink more because it should be clear.

"It's also important to keep your electrolytes up. Drink energy drinks or water mixed with electrolyte powder or tablets. This is especially important for the elderly and other people in high-risk health groups."

Their tips for coping with heatwaves are to check on the elderly that they are keeping hydrated and cool; drink plenty of water; avoid alcohol; dress lightly; be active in the early morning and late evening, and stay inside during the middle of the day; take cold showers; and use wet washers to cool your body.