High Temperatures Expected: When the heat becomes dangerous

Status: 07/12/2022 09:28 a.m

Germany is threatened with a heat wave this week. For some, this can also be a health risk – because the danger is often recognized too late.

By Edith Heitkamper and Anke Lauf, NDR

With climate change, the days of extreme heat are increasing in Germany. the study “Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change 2020” According to the report, high temperatures in the years 2018 to 2020 led to thousands of heat-related deaths in Germany.

For the first time since the study period began in 1992, excess mortality from heat has occurred in three consecutive years, they wrote Researchers from the Robert Koch Institute, the Federal Environment Agency and the German Weather Service in the “Deutsches Ärzteblatt”.

Model calculations show that the higher numbers are a global trend. According to The Lancet, the number of deaths from heat among older people has increased by 54 percent over the past few decades. According to this, there were already more than 20,000 fatalities in Germany in 2018 alone. For comparison: According to this calculation, between 2000 and 2004 there were around 8,340 heat victims nationwide every year.

High temperatures expected

Experts are now expecting high temperatures, especially in the south, this week. The DWD expects maximum temperatures of 25 to 31 degrees on Wednesday and up to 34 degrees in the southwest. “This heat wave could kill many people,” Health Minister Karl Lauterbach warned on Twitter at the weekend.

Many people recognize the danger too late

The problem: People often recognize the danger too late. “Some people feel a little nauseous, they have a dry mouth,” says Malte Issleib, an intensive care doctor in Hamburg, “people often don’t see that as bad.” Then the symptoms got worse. “They pass out and that’s when they’re taken to the hospital.”

And the Bad Schwartauer family doctor Christine Schwill also observed: “The patients come with symptoms that they don’t get sorted properly, I notice that they are heat symptoms, but the patients sort them differently.”

Body cooling systems

In fact, the high outside temperatures demand the body’s own cooling systems. The body has to give back the excess heat that affects it from the environment.

The blood supply to the skin on the arms and legs increases, and the veins dilate. Blood flowing just below the surface can give off heat through the skin. This cools the body down. But the blood pressure drops due to the dilated veins in the arms and legs, and the heart has to work harder.

Too few measures?

Experts criticize that there are too few specific measures in Germany to protect people from the heat. Other countries, such as France, have drawn up detailed plans on how to protect vulnerable people during a heat wave, for example by offering refrigerated rooms for sick people or the elderly.

The chairman of the board of the commercial health insurance (KKH), Wolfgang Matz, calls for an adaptation of the health system to the consequences of climate change. He called for additional investments in the health sector and better support for municipalities in implementing measures such as heat action plans.

And Minister of Health Lauterbach warned: Elderly and sick people must be protected from the heat wave now. “Storage fluids, fans, talk about the importance of hydration. Be available.”

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