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DC Department of Health Urges Residents to Stay Safe and Healthy During the District’s Extreme Heat Wave

Wednesday, July 20, 2011
Residents are advised to take caution when outdoors in severe temperatures.

As the District of Columbia prepares for an extreme heat wave, with temperatures predicted to approach 100 degrees and heat indexes anticipated to escalate to 115 degrees over the next several days, the DC Department of Health reminds residents of the importance of staying hydrated and cool during extreme temperatures and high humidity.   Extreme heat can cause many medical conditions such as heat exhaustion and stroke; therefore residents are advised to take caution when outdoors in severe temperatures.  In order to avoid heat-related sickness, all Washingtonians are advised to drink plenty of fluids every 30 minutes and avoid direct exposure to high temperatures for longer than two hours.

It is important that residents know the difference between an advisory and a warning.

  • An Excessive Heat Advisory means that extreme heat is likely.
  • An Excessive Heat Warning means that extreme heat is likely and can pose a threat to life if proper precautions are not taken.

Your Health Department Recommends:

  • Stay Cool Indoors: Stay indoors and, if at all possible, stay in an air-conditioned place. If your home does not have air conditioning, go to the shopping mall, public library, recreation centers or other facilities.  Even a few hours spent in air conditioning can help your body stay cooler when you go back into the heat. Other tips:
    • If you do not have access to a cool-temperature location, visit the District recreation center, library, or senior center closest to you.
    • To receive a full listing of District pools, recreation centers, libraries, and wellness centers with extended hours during the city-wide heat advisory, call 311.
  • Drink Plenty of Fluids: Increase your fluid intake, regardless of your activity level. Don't wait until you're thirsty to drink. During heavy exercise in a hot environment, drink two to four glasses (16-32 ounces) of cool fluids each hour.
  • Wear Appropriate Clothing and Sunscreen:  Wear as little clothing as possible when you are at home. Choose lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing. Sunburn affects your body's ability to cool itself and causes a loss of body fluids. It causes pain and damages the skin. If you must go outdoors, protect yourself from the sun by wearing a wide-brimmed hat (also keeps you cooler) along with sunglasses, and by putting on sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher (the most effective products say "broad spectrum" or "UVA/UVB protection" on their labels) 30 minutes prior to going out. Continue to reapply it according to the package directions.
  • Replace Salt and Minerals: Heavy sweating removes salt and minerals from the body. These are necessary for your body and must be replaced. If you must exercise, drink two to four glasses of cool, non-alcoholic fluids each hour. A sports beverage can replace the salt and minerals you lose in sweat. However, if you are on a low-salt diet, talk with your doctor before drinking a sports beverage or taking salt tablets.
  • Schedule Outdoor Activities Carefully: Try to limit your outdoor activity to morning and evening hours, and rest often in shady areas to allow your body a chance to recover.
  • Pace Yourself: If you are not accustomed to working or exercising in a hot environment, start slowly and pick up the pace gradually. If exertion in the heat makes your heart pound and leaves you gasping for breath, STOP all activity. Get into a cool area or at least into the shade, and rest, especially if you become lightheaded, confused, weak, or faint.

Know the Important Signs and Symptoms of Heat Exhaustion and Stroke

Heat exhaustion is a milder form of heatstroke that may develop due to a combination of several days with high temperatures and dehydration in an individual.  Signs of heat exhaustion include extreme weakness, muscle cramps, nausea, headache, heavy sweating, paleness and dizziness.  Heat exhaustion is treated with plenty of liquids and rest in a cool, shaded area.  Those on a low-sodium diet or with other health problems should contact a doctor.

Heat stroke is a serious illness characterized by a body temperature greater than 105 degrees.  Symptoms may include dry red skin, convulsions, throbbing headaches, disorientation, chills, delirium and coma.  Onset of heatstroke can be rapid: a person can go from feeling apparently well to a seriously ill condition within minutes.  Treatment of heatstroke involves the rapid lowering of body temperature, using a cool bath or wet towels.  This is a true medical emergency - call 911 if you or someone you know is experiencing heat stroke.

Groups at greatest risk for heat-related illness:

  • Infants
  • Children up to four years of age
  • People 65 years of age and older
  • People who are overweight
  • People who are ill or on certain medications.

Groups at greatest risk should be monitored carefully, and their environments should be regulated. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that adults at greatest risk be closely monitored and visited at least twice a day to view for possible signs of heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Infants and young children should also be closely monitored.

If you suspect that you or someone you know is experiencing a heat related illness, please call 911.  For more information, visit