Heatwave conditions prompt health warning

High temperatures across southeast Australia prompt health experts to issue a public warning about the dangers posed by extreme heat.

(Transcript from World News Australia Radio)

High temperatures in southeast Australia are continuing to rise, with weather experts saying relief is unlikely to come until the end of the week.

In Victoria paramedics have been called to more than 35 cases of heat exhaustion, or heat stroke, prompting health experts to issue a public warning about the dangers posed by extreme heat.

Peggy Giakoumelos reports.

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The Bureau of Meteorology says over the next few days, severe heat weather conditions are forecast for southeastern South Australia, southern New South Wales, Victoria, and Tasmania.

And later in the week, high temperatures are also forecast for Western Australia's Pilbara region, to extend further south down the coast towards Perth.

The prediction is prompting health authorities to issues warnings about the dangers of the heat.

Professor Tony McMichael is with the Australian National University's College of Medicine, Biology and Environment.

He says people need to remember the basics which include drinking more water, wearing cool clothing and staying out of the sun.

Professor McMichael adds that some people tend to be much more vulnerable to the effects of heat.

"Unfortunately of course there are always more deaths during serious heatwaves, particularly if they're prolonged, and they do tend to occur mostly but not exclusively in those who are older and those who have underlying health disorders, particularly heart and blood vessel disorders and chronic lung disease. Those people in particular should look after themselves, but all of us are at risk if we don't behave sensibly."

Professor McMichael says along with the elderly and those with an underlying medical condition, socially disadvantaged groups and people in some occupations are also at risk.

He says dehydration and heatstroke can have psychological effects as well, increasing anger and impairing people's judgement.

"We tend to overlook that one. It does effect mood, people get more angry on the roads, in the cars. They get frustrated in the work place because it's harder to concentrate. There are always risks of making bad choices in the workplace, incurring physical injuries and of course these situations, sometimes just lead to conflict. We've seen plenty of that unfortunately with young people late at night. And if we've got very, very hot nights tempers can be provoked and fights can break out."

Registered Nurse Nick McDonald is with Prestige Inhome Care, a service which provides community care for older Australians.

He's urging friends and relatives of the elderly to check in on them on hot days.

Mr McDonald has found one of the biggest concerns for older people is that they don't drink enough water, something that can have dangerous consequences in the heat.

"This can include things like headaches, hot and dry skin, feeling sick nausea, vomiting, disorientation and confusion. Which is obviously one of the things we encourage people to check in on older people. Because often they are not aware of some of the signs and symptoms that they're exhibiting. And also from the dehydration perspective, if the urine is darker or they're not going to the toilet as often, they're some signs that there are some changes starting to take place."

Workers in some occupations are also particularly at risk during very hot weather.

Maurice Blackburn Lawyers Workcover expert Salvatore Giandinoto says employers need to remember that under law they're required to provide a safe working environment - and that includes protection from heat-related injuries.

"Simple things like rescheduling work to cooler parts of the day, ensuring there is a rotation of difficult or heavy work, making sure there's ample drinking water available and providing workers with adequate and appropriate sunscreen and protective clothing are simple things that can be done to protect workers during this scorching heat period. Particularly those exposed to the outdoor conditions but also those working indoors in poorly ventilated or not airconditioned areas. The real threat and concern is also for those working at heights or working in farmland or with heavy and dangerous machinery."

Motorists are also being reminded about the danger of leaving children, the elderly or pets unattended in cars.

Manager for Road User Behaviour with insurer RACV in Victoria Melinda Congiu says this isn't always intentional, with many people simply accidentally locking their keys in the car.

But she adds that in days of high temperatures, the interior of a stationary vehicle, even when parked in the shade, can reach 60 degrees within minutes regardless of whether windows are left open or not.

"RACV would like to remind parents to always hold your keys in your hand when you're getting your children in and out of car so you don't accidentally lock your child in on a day like today."

South Australia's heatwave is challenging records dating back more than 70 years and Melbourne is facing its longest run of 40-degree days since 1908.

Several fires flared across both states on Tuesday and the run of heat is expected to produce extreme fire conditions by the end of the week.

The Bureau of Meteorology says the heatwave is due to a very slow-moving, high-pressure system sitting in the Tasman sea, which is causing heat to build up in the interior of the continent.

Source World News Australia

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