One of the key factors on global warming is the general raise of temperatures and the increase of hot days forecast. In order to know how this fact can affect human health, some researches establishing a relationship between temperature and mortality are being carried out. For example, it is known that during the strong wave of heat suffered by Western Europe on August 2003, 35,000 deaths more than expected were counted.
Several days ago, during the Conferences on “Global Warming and children’s health” organized by Fundació Roger Torné the first results carried out in Catalonia were presented regarding the research on temperature and mortality between 1983 and 2006. The conclusion is that heat affected mortality very much.
Thus, when during a summer day the temperature raises higher than expected, mortality increases 4% becoming 10% the next day. The collection of three days in a row suffering intense heat means 22% mortality increase, mostly among aged people or people suffering from cardiovascular, respiratory or diabetic diseases, as “Effects of thermal changes on mortality in Catalonia” stated in the lecture given by Xavier Basañaga, Doctor in Biostatistics in University of Harvard, professor in Centro de Investigación de Epidemiología Ambiental (CREAL) and one of the research authors.
One of the causes of death due to high temperature is the heat crisis. But, to tell the truth, the most serious effect is produced due to the long exposition to high temperatures which depresses the nervous system and prevents vital organs from normal running. As an answer to the sun, the cardiac and respiratory rhythm increases as well as the blood viscosity so there are more probabilities of suffering from coagulum formation. Heat also affects mental health and other researches have shown that hotter days are associated with a raise in the suicide rate.
Moreover, high temperatures affect not only adults. Mortality, regarding babies under one year old, increases 25% the hotter days and the percentage becomes twice as much in the case of babies suffering from a cardiovascular, respiratory or digestive disease. The vulnerability goes to the top during the first days of life. And during all childhood they suffer because they perspire more than adults and sweat is one of the basic mechanisms to control body temperature.
Beyond the general measures that must be adopted to stop global warning it seems clear that, despite we take action now, the strong heat waves will increase during the next years. We will need to have into account, then, the medical advises in order to prevent most negative effects. Protecting ourselves from heat and sun, reducing physical activity during the extreme heat hours and watching our diet and hydratation are habits to be followed by everybody but, mainly, by the most vulnerable ones.