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Emergency responders use nightmarish method to cool people down from record heat: 'There's no way the body can keep up'

"A consistent increase in the number of heat-related deaths."

Emergency responders use Body bag method to cool people down

Photo Credit: iStock

The world is on track to experience record-setting high temperatures for the next five years because of heat-trapping pollution being released into the atmosphere. Phoenix, Arizona, in particular, is feeling the heat thanks to its already-hot climate. The heat has gotten so bad that Bloomberg reports doctors have resorted to a new method of cooling overheated patients down: placing them inside a body bag filled with ice.

What's happening?

As Bloomberg explains, temperatures in Phoenix hit 119 degrees in late July. Temperatures that high cause heat stress in the human body, leading to dehydration, heat stroke, and other health effects.

At least 18 people in Phoenix and the surrounding county have died from the heat this year, with 69 other deaths possibly linked to the temperature.

"This is a problem every summer for us," medical epidemiologist Nick Staab of the Maricopa County Department of Health told Bloomberg. "Over the last couple of years, we've just seen a consistent increase in the number of heat-related deaths. In 2022, we saw 425 deaths and that was a 25% increase over 2021."

To cope with the rash of heat-related health problems, the emergency medical team at Valleywise Health Medical Center developed a new method to rapidly bring down a patient's internal body temperature.

Why was it important to create a new cooling method?

Bloomberg explains that the body bag technique is similar to an ice bath, which is an established method to cool a person down, although it's not common in a hospital setting. In the past, Valleywise, like many medical establishments, relied on spraying an overheated person with water while blowing a fan on them. This cools people in a similar way to the body's natural sweat.

According to Staab, sweat is actually pretty effective in a dry place like Phoenix — but only up to a point. 

"Over certain temperatures, that becomes less effective," Staab told Bloomberg. "There's no way that the body can keep up with exposures to high temperatures."

The body bag method took only half an hour to bring one patient's temperature from over 110 degrees — the hottest the hospital's thermometers could register — down to 102 degrees, the point at which the patient was ready for other types of treatment.

Having a fast way to bring a person's internal temperature down will save lives as more and more people are exposed to dangerously high temperatures in the coming years.

What else can I do to stay safe in the heat?

During this record-setting summer, stay in air-conditioned areas or the shade as much as possible, and drink plenty of water. Also, try these tips for staying cool.

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