Columbia County Emergency Services is preparing for the heat as the dog days of summer begin to growl.
Kimberly Mettenburg, 10, and Austan Gurley, 9, patiently wait for a customer at their lemonade stand on Belair Road as temperatures soared into the 90s on Thursday.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
To help combat heat-related illnesses - heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke - the county is offering cool refuge inside the Bessie Thomas Community Center and Patriots Park.
Though not as serious a problem as it once was, extreme heat still kills an average of 175 Americans each year, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
"The number of heat-related illnesses has gone down tremendously over the last 10 to 15 years, because a lot more people now have air conditioning," Columbia County EMA Director Pam Tucker said. "There's also a lot more public education about how to avoid heat-related illnesses.
"We still offer the cooling centers for those couple of thousand people that don't have air conditioning or anywhere else to go."
Heavy rainfall has kept humidity low, and the cooling centers have not been as needed, Tucker said. But forecasts point to a hotter summer, she said.
"There is usually two or three weeks when the heat is very oppressive, when the heat indexes get up to 105 to 110 (degrees) many consecutive days in a row," she said. "We've had as many as 60 to 100 people at a time on those dates using the cooling centers."
The county also provides free transportation to anyone in need of a ride to either cooling center by calling 556-0308.
While mostly the elderly have used the cooling centers during previous summers, children are most at risk for heat maladies.
"Kids are less able to dissipate heat in an efficient manner," said Dr. Jim Wilde, pediatrics emergency room physician at the Medical College of Georgia Hospital.
The smaller the body, the more prone someone is to heat-related illnesses, he said.
"In order to dissipate heat, you need to be able to evaporate sweat," Wilde said. "That's why sweating is there. As the fluid is evaporated from your skin, the heat goes with it.
"The problem with kids is that their body surface area relative to their total size is smaller. Adults have a larger surface area. Thus, adults are more efficient at dissipating heat through sweating than kids are."
People who are obese, have diabetes, suffer from cystic fibrosis or have certain pituitary and brain problems are more susceptible to overheating, Wilde said.
Avoiding the sun's direct rays and not working outside during the hottest part of the day are the best ways to ward off heat-related health problems, he said.
If working in the sun is unavoidable, Wilde suggested that people stay hydrated.
"You need to be pro-active about getting fluid in your system," he said. "That means loading up on fluids before you get into the heat and, whether you're thirsty or not, taking some fluid breaks periodically during the time you're exposed to the heat."
Wilde also suggested warming up to the sun.
"It takes a couple of weeks to get acclimated to severe heat," he said. "You can't go months inside and then work outside in extreme heat for six hours without risking your health.
"Spend short spans of time in the heat until you're acclimated. Start off at one hour. Then try a little more the next day and so on."
Columbia County's Cooling Centers
Bessie Thomas Community Center
5913 Euchee Creek Drive, Grovetown
Hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
5445 Columbia Road, Grovetown
Hours are 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday; 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday and Saturday; and 1 to 6 p.m. on Sunday.
Symptoms of heat-related illnesses and treatment:
Heat cramps: Muscular pains and spasms due to heavy exertion. They are an early signal that the body is having trouble with the heat. Get the person to a cooler place and have him or her rest in a comfortable position. Lightly stretch the affected muscle and replenish fluids. Give a half glass of cool water every 15 minutes.
Heat exhaustion: Cool, moist, pale or flushed skin, heavy sweating, headache, nausea or vomiting, dizziness and exhaustion. Body temperature will be near normal. Get the person out of the heat and into a cooler place. Remove or loosen tight clothing and apply cool, wet cloths, such as towels or sheets. If the person is conscious, give cool water to drink. Make sure the person drinks slowly. Give a half glass of cool water every 15 minutes.
Heat stroke: Hot, red skin, changes in consciousness, rapid, weak pulse, and rapid, shallow breathing. Body temperature can be very high, as much as 105 degrees. If the person was sweating from heavy work or exercise, skin may be wet - otherwise, it will feel dry. Heat stroke is a life-threatening situation and help is needed quickly. Call 911. Move the person to a cooler place and immerse victim in a cool bath or wrap wet sheets around the body and fan it. If the victim refuses water, is vomiting or there are changes in the level of consciousness, do not give anything to eat or drink.
Source: The American Red Cross
Precautions to take during hot days:
Avoid strenuous activity. If strenuous activity is unavoidable, it should be done during the early morning hours, usually the coolest part of the day.
Stay indoors as much as possible. If air conditioning is not available, go somewhere with air conditioning like a cooling center, or stay on the lowest floor of your home and out of the sunshine.
Electric fans do not cool the air, but they do help sweat evaporate, which cools your body. Air conditioning is preferable.
Wear lightweight, light-colored clothing. Light colors will reflect away some of the sun's energy.
Drink plenty of water regularly and often, even if you do not feel thirsty. Avoid drinks with alcohol, especially beer, or caffeine in them. They can make the heat's effects on the body worse.
Eat small meals and eat more often. Avoid foods that are high in protein, which increase metabolic heat.
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.