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Beating the heat: Experts urge caution in hot weather

Staff Photo: Erin Evans. Eary Strickland needed some fresh air Thursday, but she took a bottle of cool water with her while she relaxed at Turner Lake Complex.

Staff Photo: Erin Evans. Eary Strickland needed some fresh air Thursday, but she took a bottle of cool water with her while she relaxed at Turner Lake Complex.

COVINGTON -- Looks like it's going to be one of those long, hot Southern summers. Spring hasn't even made her exit yet, but temperatures are stubbornly stuck in the mid-90s, and there's no relief in sight, according to area meteorologists.

Given the extreme heat, it's extra important to take precautions to keep cool and hydrated. According to the National Weather Service, heat causes more fatalities per year than floods, lightning, tornadoes and hurricanes. Based on the 10-year average from 2000 to 2009, excessive heat claims an average of 162 lives a year. By contrast, hurricanes killed 117; floods, 65; tornadoes, 62; and lightning, 48.

Georgia Emergency Management Agency spokeswoman Lisa Janak said it's important to stay indoors in the air conditioning as much as possible and drink plenty of fluids on extremely hot days. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, alcohol and sugary beverages will only make things worse by causing the body to lose more fluid. Water is best to stay hydrated.

For those who don't have air conditioning, the CDC recommends spending the day at a shopping mall, library or other public facility that is air conditioned. Electric fans may provide comfort, but they won't prevent heat-related illness on days when the temperature rises to the mid-90s, the CDC cautions.

For those who must be outside during the day, it's best to limit outdoor hours to mornings and evenings, stay hydrated and take frequent breaks. The CDC recommends that those who work or exercise in the heat drink two to four glasses of fluid each hour. Sports drinks can replace salt and minerals lost in sweat, but may not be healthy for people with salt-restricted diets. Those who must be outdoors should rest often in shady areas and protect themselves from the sun with a wide-brimmed hat, loose-fitting, lightweight and light-colored clothes that cover as much skin as possible, sunglasses and sunscreen with SPF 15 or greater.

Janak advises to check on family, friends and neighbors who do not have air conditioning and spend a lot of time alone and she stresses never to leave children or pets alone in closed vehicles.

It's also important to learn the signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion and heat stroke, and seek medical attention for anyone who may be suffering. Heat exhaustion symptoms include heavy sweating, weakness, cold, pale and clammy skin and possibly fainting and vomiting.

The victim should be helped to cool off by getting out of the sun, taking a cool shower or bath and drinking cool, non-alcoholic and non-caffeinated beverages. Medical attention should be sought if symptoms persist for more than an hour.

Heat stroke is a severe medical emergency that occurs when body temperature reaches 106 degrees or higher. Symptoms include hot, red skin with no sweating, rapid and strong pulse, dizziness, nausea and possible unconsciousness. Summon immediate emergency medical assistance, move the person out of the sun, and if possible cover him with damp sheets or towels or spray with cool water and fan him off. Have the person drink cool water if he is able. If medical personnel are delayed getting to the scene, call the nearest emergency room for instructions. Cooling efforts should continue until body temperature drops to 101 degrees.

Residents are urged to monitor local radio and TV stations, newspapers and NOAA Weather Radios for the latest information on summer temperatures.