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State agency urges caution during heat

By M.J. Subiria Arauz

marauz@news-daily.com

It is blazing hot in most parts of Georgia and people should exercise caution to prevent heat-related illnesses, said a spokeswoman for the Georgia Department of Community Health (DCH).

Pamela Keene said temperatures are soaring into the 90s much earlier than anticipated, and the DCH is providing tips for Georgians to stay safe during the hot weather. The elderly and people who work in excessive heat are more prone to heat exhaustion and heat illnesses, she explained.

"We're sounding the alarm early," added Brenda Fitzgerald, division of public health director for the Georgia Department of Community Health. "I'm asking everyone to ensure their own safety and also the safety of their neighbors and loved ones."

Fitzgerald stressed that for the first week of June, temperatures are generally 10 degrees higher than normal.

Keene said children should not be left in hot cars, even in temperatures in the low, to mid-70s. A car's inside temperature can increase up to 19 degrees in 10 minutes.

Last year, a record of 49 children in the U.S. died from heatstroke after being left in cars, she said. This record included three children in Georgia.

People should avoid sun exposure because it can develop into an illness, said Keene. Melanoma is the third most common skin cancer, and every year there are an estimated 1,709 new melanoma cases diagnosed in the state, she said.

Georgia residents should wear light, loose-fitting clothing and use sunscreen with sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15, she said. The sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays are the strongest from 10 a.m., to 4 p.m., and people should avoid going outside during these hours. Infants and children, she added, are especially vulnerable to sunburn.

Georgians should stay hydrated and drink more fluids if they're in the hot weather for a long time, or doing intense physical activity, said Keene. People should avoid beverages that cause dehydration, such as alcohol and caffeine, she said.

People should keep an eye out for their elderly neighbors and relatives, during the hot weather. The older generation can be affected by heat-related stress. Seniors and people with low immune systems can very likely suffer from extreme and prolonged exposure to heat, she said.

To cool down, residents should locate the coolest area in their home, she said. It can temporarily provide relief and allow for their bodies to recover from high temperatures. Cold showers can also reduce a body's temperature.

Symptoms of heat stroke include:

*An extremely high body temperature

*Red, hot, dry skin and no sweating

*A rapid and strong pulse

*Headache

*Dizziness

*Nausea

*Confusion

*Unconsciousness

Symptoms of heat exhaustion are:

*Heavy sweating

*Paleness

*Muscle cramps

*Tiredness

*Weakness

*Dizziness

*Headache

*Nausea or vomiting

*Fainting

Those who witness a person experiencing any of the above symptoms should help the victim cool off, and seek medical attention if conditions worsen or last more than an hour, said Keene.

People actually experiencing heatstroke or heat exhaustion should remove themselves from the sun, and take a cold shower or sponge bath. Victims should also drink cool beverages.

For more information visit the Georgia Department of Community Health web site at, http://dch.georgia.org.