By Johnny Jackson
With the National Weather Service forecasting temperatures in the mid-90s for the next several days, the Georgia Department of Community Health is urging residents and motorists to be wary of the mid-day heat.
"As the temperatures rise, we are now seeing almost daily reports from the media around the country of kids being rescued after being left in cars," said Patrick O'Neal, director of the department's Division of Emergency Preparedness and Response.
Thirteen children nationwide, including one child in Georgia, have already died this year, after being left in cars in the heat, according to a recent report by Safe Kids USA, an organization whose aim is to prevent unintentional childhood injury.
The report, which also evaluates the causes of childhood heat stroke, said that outside temperatures of only 80 degrees can translate into inside car temperatures increasing by 19 degrees in just 10 minutes. After 30 minutes, the car's temperature can be 34 degrees hotter than the outside temperature.
Safe Kids USA data suggests that a child's body temperature rises three to five times faster than an adult's, putting children at greater risks for heat stroke, which can cause permanent brain damage, or death.
The organization reported that, nationally, there are about 37 cases of heat stroke-related childhood deaths each year for children left alone in hot cars, and half of those cases are the result of absent-minded adults who forgot to get the children out of the car.
"This shows that these deaths are preventable," added O'Neal, of the Georgia Department of Community Health. "Extra planning by the driver and quick action by concerned bystanders can make the difference for these kids."
O'Neal urges adults to call 911 immediately, if they see a child alone in a car. Quick action also may save pets from the ill-effects of the warmer weather, said Gerri Yoder, director of Henry County Animal Care and Control.
Yoder said concerned residents often make the calls to the animal care and control department regarding pets in unsafe conditions, including animals in hot cars, or confined to unshaded spaces.
"We see a sharp increase in the number of complaints regarding shelter in the summer months, and anytime we have extreme weather," Yoder said. "We get calls from local residents who will be going into the store, and they will see pets closed up in a car."
The animal care and control director said dogs, for instance, maintain a higher body temperature than people, and cool themselves by panting. If they are panting inside a hot car, she said, they're panting in hot air and they cannot cool themselves.
"This time of year, it's especially important that your pets -- whether they are going to be outside for a short while or they are outdoor pets -- to have a cool place of retreat," she continued, "and it's especially important for your pet to have clean drinkable water at all times."
Yoder recommends that pet owners dig a whole in a shaded area, where their outdoor pets will be kept, and put their pet's water bowl in the ground so they cannot turn the bowl over and the water remains cool and drinkable. She added, "Our best advice is that, if your pet cannot get out of your vehicle and go in with you, leave your pet at home."
For more information on preventing heat-related injuries to children, visit the Safe Kids USA web site, at www.safekids.org/nlyca. For information about caring for pets, visit the Henry County Animal Care and Control web site at www.hcacc.org.