High temperatures lead to increased emergency department visits and deaths, and the numbers will grow as climate change makes summers even hotter by the end of the century, researchers warn.
They analyzed data from across Rhode Island and found that when temperatures rise above 75 degrees Fahrenheit, there is a significant increase in medical problems among people of all ages.
“Our primary finding is that as temperatures increase, the number of emergency room visits and deaths increase,” study author Samantha Kingsley, a graduate student in public health at Brown University in Providence, R.I., said in a university news release.
“But people were going to the hospital for heat-related reasons at temperatures below what we would typically consider extreme,” she added.
Heat-related ER visits were about 3 percent higher on days with a high of 75 degrees than on days with a high of 65, and almost 24 percent higher on days with a high of 85 degrees than on days with a high of 75.
Rhode Island’s death rate was 4 percent higher on a typical 85-degree day than on a typical 75-degree day, according to the study recently published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.
“People should be aware that heat represents a significant public health threat,” senior author Gregory Wellenius, an associate professor of epidemiology at Brown, said in the news release. “We do need to take heat seriously as a public health risk, even if there isn’t a heat warning.”
The researchers found that the strongest link between higher temperatures and heat-related ER visits was among those between 18 and 64 years of age. Many of these patients could be workers who are outside on hot days.
“Everybody believes that heat is dangerous but not for them,” Wellenius said. “One of the messages is that this is really across the age spectrum. Heat remains one of the leading causes of weather-related deaths.”
The researchers also estimated that if climate change boosts summer temperatures 10 degrees hotter by the end of the century, Rhode Island’s summertime death rate would rise by about 80 each year, or about 1.5 percent. Heat-related ER visits would increase 25 percent, from about 6,000 to 7,500 each summer, the researchers said.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers hot weather safety tips.