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Experts raise concerns after examining widespread health-harming heat stress: 'Took the scientific community by surprise'

In response, the environmental agency has encouraged healthcare organizations to prepare for heat-induced illnesses.

In response, the environmental agency has encouraged healthcare organizations to prepare for heat-induced illnesses.

Photo Credit: iStock

As the summer season approaches, so does the heat. As scientists around the world continue to address the effects of a warming planet, many will have to prepare for the impact heat stress will have on their health and communities.

What's happening?

Reuters reported that rising temperatures are causing heat stress in Europe, putting public health officials on alert. 

The news outlet noted that the European Union's Copernicus climate monitoring service and the World Meteorological Organization found that last year's July heatwave put up to 41% of southern Europe on notice for "strong, very strong, or extreme heat stress," per Reuters.

Parts of Italy, for example, saw deaths in the summer season increase by 7% compared to the previous year, while Europe has experienced an overall 30% increase over the last 20 years. 

In response, the Environment Agency for the European Union has encouraged healthcare organizations to prepare for heat-induced illnesses.  

Carlo Buontempo, director of the Copernicus Climate Change Service, said to Reuters, "Some of the events of 2023 took the scientific community by surprise because of their intensity, their speed of onset, extent, and duration."

Why is heat stress concerning? 

At some point, everyone is bound to witness an extreme but isolated weather event. Weather is what you see outside on any particular day. 

Climate, on the other hand, is the average of that weather over time and space. It's the big picture of temperatures, precipitation, and wind patterns in an area over 30 years or more, as National Geographic explains. As planet-warming gases are released, the weather patterns change, making events more extreme and frequent for communities. 

Heat stress is a serious concern, especially as our planet continues to experience record-breaking temperatures. It's the body's response to overheating and can lead to a range of health issues, from mild symptoms like heat cramps to more severe conditions like heat stroke. 

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, heat-related deaths have also been increasing in the United States. In 2023, there were 2,302 attributed to high temperatures.

Additionally, excess heat lead can lead to drought, causing food systems to be affected and insured economic losses of $2.6 billion, according to Swiss Re. Heat can also cause more moisture to stay in the air, per Reuters. In Slovenia, sea level rise and flooding threatened around 1.5 million people last year, Reuters reported.  

What's being done about it?

As stated on Phys.org, children, the elderly, those with health conditions, and outdoor workers are particularly vulnerable to heat stress. Limiting outside exposure, increasing airflow, and installing heat-reflective windows at home are ways to prevent heat stress, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

On the individual level, cool baths or misting with water can help keep a person's temperature down. This article has more guidance on how to stay safe in extreme heat. 

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