The Department of Health has activated the State Hazard Plan Heatwave (on 10 December 2019) based on forecast temperatures for the Perth metropolitan area. Forecasts for parts of regional WA are also unusually high for this time of year.
Residents in these areas are advised to take necessary measures to avoid heat stress, as the effect of hot weather is not always immediate and can build up over a number of days.
While hot stretches are nothing new, WA Health Chief Health Officer Dr Andrew Robertson said some people were particularly vulnerable.
"The elderly, babies and those with chronic diseases are more prone to heat stress than most people," Dr Robertson said.
"The body normally sweats to cool itself, but for the elderly and the very young, the body cannot always regulate temperature changes efficiently, particularly when the temperature is over 32 degrees – this leads to heat stress."
For this reason, the Department of Health recommends taking preventative steps to avoid heat-related illness.
Dr Robertson said people who worked outside or who were not used to the heat, like overseas travellers – were often at a higher risk. People attending outdoor entertainment or sporting events could also be at risk of developing heat stroke.
"It is particularly important that people are aware of the risks of heat stress when they head outdoors to enjoy activities," Dr Robertson said.
People should ensure they have ample supplies of non-alcoholic cool drinks and good sun protection.
Heat stress symptoms may range from mild to severe and can include rashes, cramps, headache, nausea and excessive or inadequate sweating. It can also exacerbate existing health conditions.
“Checking on families and friends who may be vulnerable to heat, particularly the elderly and the sick, to ensure they are taking precautions and coping adequately, is also very important,” Dr Robertson said.
The Department of Health is advising Western Australians who experience severe symptoms such as a high body temperature; nausea; dry, red, hot skin; and a rapid heart rate to seek urgent medical advice.
People should take the following precautions to help prevent heat-related illness:
- never leave anyone in a closed car
- drink plenty of water and fluids (note: If your doctor normally limits your fluids or you are on fluid tablets, you may need to check how much to drink while the weather is hot)
- limit or avoid alcohol
- stay indoors, in air-conditioning if possible
- take a cool shower or bath
- wear lightweight, loose-fitting clothing
- apply sunscreen at regular intervals while outdoors
- reduce physical activity
- avoid outdoor activity during the hottest part of the day
- if possible, stay in shaded areas when outdoors
- don't rely on fans unless there is adequate ventilation.
Make sure you know the signs of heat stress (muscle cramps, pallor, dizziness, headache, nausea increased heart rate, fainting, excessive sweating or no sweating with high temperature and hot, dry skin) and seek medical attention if necessary.
For more information visit Healthy WA (external site).