by Max Brantley
Officials at the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) have confirmed that two Arkansans have died as a result of the recent heat wave. One of the two persons who died was an elderly female in northeast Arkansas and the other was an elderly male in southwest Arkansas. The deaths occurred in the last week of July and the first week of August.
The Health Department confirms cause of death only by death certificates that have been sent by mail after having been signed by a coroner or other local authority. The process generally takes about ten days to two weeks, and sometimes longer if an autopsy or other investigation is involved. According to John Senner, Branch Chief for the Center for Health Statistics, the state averages about ten deaths every year from heat-related causes.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, from 1979-2003, excessive heat exposure caused 8,015 deaths in the United States. While the elderly, people with health problems, and very young children are the most vulnerable, heat can affect anyone—even strong, healthy athletes can be stricken.
Even though the weather in Arkansas has cooled somewhat, there are still hot days possible for the future. Arkansans need to understand the toll that severe heat can take on the human body. Several factors affect the body's ability to cool itself during extremely hot weather. When the humidity is high, sweat will not evaporate as quickly, preventing the body from releasing heat quickly. Other conditions related to risk include age, obesity, fever, dehydration, heart disease, mental illness, poor circulation, sunburn, and prescription drug and alcohol use.
Our bodies are cooled primarily by losing heat through the skin by perspiration and evaporation. Problems occur when we are unable to shed excess heat. When our heat gain exceeds the amount we can get rid of, our temperature begins to rise and heat-related illness may develop.
Your body has an internal thermostat that is designed to help you maintain proper body