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Archive for Thursday, July 14, 2011

Heat wave may have been responsible for 11 deaths in Kansas and Missouri

July 14, 2011

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— A brief reprieve from scorching temperatures that may be responsible for as many as 11 deaths and dozens of hospital visits is expected to end as temperatures again soar in Missouri and Kansas.

The National Weather Service has issued an excessive heat watch for Friday through Monday evening for the Kansas City metropolitan area, extreme eastern Kansas and far western Missouri. Forecasters are predicting temperatures in the mid- to upper 90s with a few locations hitting 100.

A cool front that slid into the region, bringing showers and thunderstorms, gave the region a break Tuesday from heat indices that frequently topped 105 degrees, said Dan Hawblitzel, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in the Kansas City suburb of Pleasant Hill.

But now long range forecasts call for above average temperatures through the end of July.

The high temperatures already have killed at least two people in St. Louis and possibly as many as nine in Kansas City, where the Jackson County medical examiner is investigating. The latest suspected death, announced Wednesday, is a man in his early 70s, said Bill Snook, a spokesman for the Kansas City Health Department.

St. Louis health officials confirmed the city's second heat-related death Thursday. The victim was identified only as an 80-year-old woman who was found lifeless in her home on Wednesday. The other victim died in June.

It's likely that some of the suspected heat deaths will be ruled out, Snook said. He said 11 Kansas City-area deaths were under investigation as heat-related last year, but only four ultimately were confirmed. Toxicology tests, which are part of the investigations, usually take four to eight weeks to complete.

Before the recent cool down, people also had been flooding emergency rooms. Hospitals in the city of St. Louis treated 14 heat-related illness cases on Monday, according to the City of St. Louis Department of Health. KSDK reported that the patients ranged in age from seven to 66 and half were men and half were women.

In the Kansas City area, there were 21 heat-related visits to emergency rooms Sunday, 11 on Monday and nine on Tuesday, Snook said.

The Kansas City Health Department said one-third of this year's cases involved adults ages 18 to 44, with 28 percent age 65 and older. Nearly 10 percent of the illnesses have been in children age 4 and under.

While the young and old are at increased risk, Snook said the numbers show that other groups can fall prey to the heat too. He said high-sugar drinks, caffeine, alcohol and certain medications like diuretics can make it harder for people to cope with high temperatures.

Snook also stressed that three of last year's four heat deaths in Kansas City were identified as possible cases of the so-called furnace effect, which happens when someone is no longer sweating because they are too hot, the air is too humid and a fan is being used. The health department said that fan is not cooling the air or the person, just pushing more hot air on the person.

"It is like creating a convection oven," Snook said. "You are cooking yourself."

He said fans are good up to a point but shouldn't be the primary source of cooling. Cold showers and spending time in air conditioning also are important.

"We want people to really take the precautions and prepare," Snook said. "People say, 'It's always hot.' But remember who you are, what you are doing and what you are putting into your body. People need to be mindful and take precautions."

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