The heat is on for health departments
10 JANUARY 2013
A CSU climate expert believes health authorities will need to do more to minimise the impacts of heatwaves on our health services, especially if the recent trend of rising average temperatures and more hot days continues as projected.
A Charles Sturt University (CSU) climate expert believes health authorities will need to do more to minimise the impacts of heatwaves on our health services, especially if the recent trend of rising average temperatures and more hot days continues as projected.
Professor Kevin Parton was part of a team that investigated the effects of heat waves in Adelaide and Perth, both state capital cities in Australia that are particularly prone to hot, dry conditions.
“We compared hospital and ambulance records from these cities with daily variations in temperatures from Perth and Adelaide between 1993 and 2009,” said Professor Parton, who is an adjunct professor with the University’s Faculty of Business.
“We were interested in the definition of a heatwave in terms of people’s health. We were looking for different temperature thresholds in different locations and for different conditions.
“In Adelaide, we found that the daily maximum temperature of 30oC was the threshold at which we saw more deaths from heat related stress. At 34oC, we started to see more emergency department presentations, and these presentations increased up to six times when we reached 44oC,” he explained.
“The maximum temperature threshold for increases in ambulance call-outs was 26oC, with five per cent more call-outs at 36oC.
“In Perth, heatwave days, where there were three of more days over 35 degrees, showed increases in daily mortality and emergency department presentations while total hospital admissions decreased,” he said.
“We found that in Perth the daily threshold above which there were more deaths was 34 to 36oC.”
Professor Parton believed public health interventions will be increasingly important to minimise the adverse health impacts of hot weather in Perth and Adelaide, particularly if rising average temperature trends and more hot days continues as predicted.
“Clearly there are different critical temperatures in different locations. Critical temperatures at which health authorities should be concerned would probably be lower for more temperate locations such as Hobart,” he said.
And the research has had an immediate impact. “Health authorities in Adelaide and Perth are planning to make more resources available around these threshold temperatures. We also need to continue health messages that alert our communities to the dangers of heatwave conditions,” Professor Parton said.