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Scientists sound alarm about mysterious 'heat death hotspot': 'The problem will get worse'

"Doctors and scientists say the health crisis is far greater than people [realize]."

"Doctors and scientists say the health crisis is far greater than people [realize]."

Photo Credit: iStock

Scientists are trying to discover why one particular area of Europe is so prone to heat-related deaths.

What's happening?

Osijek, a small city in Croatia, has had more deaths per 100,000 person-years than any other place on the continent, according to a study published in the Lancet Planetary Health journal. 

The research, summarized by The Guardian — which called the town "Europe's heat death hotspot" — modeled temperatures from 854 of the biggest cities in Europe, with heat-related deaths over the last two decades most common in Osijek. 

With hot weather resulting in an estimated 70,000 deaths worldwide in the summer of 2023, prevention and mitigation methods are essential to protect human life.

"Doctors and scientists say the health crisis is far greater than people realise, with the public unaware how hard heat hits and politicians unprepared for it to get worse," The Guardian noted. 

Why is this happening? 

The reasons behind the concerning death toll in Osijek are unknown. Certain factors may be contributing to the high numbers, such as local diet, the slow-moving or still waters surrounding the city, and pre-existing illnesses, but a key cause is still being sought. The Guardian stated "the problem will get worse without urgent action."

It's particularly confusing because Osijek is home to plenty of green spaces, which would typically help to reduce temperatures in comparison to urban areas full of concrete, stone, and asphalt. 

In addition to the heat, one other concern is the presence of mosquitoes. Summer heat waves followed by flash foods have resulted in a growing population of the tiny blood-suckers, according to The Guardian, and while they do not carry diseases such as malaria yet, the conditions may encourage the spread of infectious diseases in years to come. 

Though the reasons for the excessive mortality numbers in Osijek are still only being speculated on, there are ways to try to prevent increasingly hot temperatures that can be deadly.

From a personal perspective, staying hydrated, remaining inside in hot weather, and avoiding alcohol consumption are all effective ways to minimize the negative impacts on the body caused by heat.

But in a broader sense, and with government intervention crucial, planting more trees in urban areas would be hugely beneficial. The heat island effect, in which concrete structures absorb heat and expel it into surrounding areas, leads to high temperatures. Green spaces, meanwhile, absorb and trap heat, helping to keep things cool. 

Meanwhile, reducing urban traffic can lessen the presence of planet-warming pollution — which traps heat in the atmosphere — in city spaces.

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