|Advisory Council Newsnotes
A Quarterly Newsletter for Advisory Councils of the Houston Department of Health and Human Services
IN THIS ISSUE:
Twenty-two people died in Houston and Harris County in the summer of 1998 because of the extreme heat. Year in and year out, heat kills more Houstonians than hurricanes, tornados and ice storms combined.
Most healthy people can survive well in periods of high heat. In southeast Texas, most of us live, drive and work in an air-conditioned environment. Most healthy people recognize the symptoms of heat illness and can take appropriate action to cool off.
Some people, for a variety of reasons, will suffer serious physical illness, even death, because of the high heat and humidity of southeast Texas.
• People over the age of 55.
• Children under the age of 5.
• People with chronic cardio-pulmonary disease.
• People with kidney disease.
• People with impaired mobility due to mental or physical disabilities.
During the extreme heat crisis of 1998, 14 of the 22 deaths were in people over the age of 55. Seventeen of the 22 people who died were discovered dead or near death inside their residence. Sixteen of the seventeen people who died in their residence had no air conditioning or were not running it during the crisis. Eight of the people who died were relying on fans as their only source of temperature relief.
The key to good health during extreme heat is air-conditioning.
Air-conditioning will make us more comfortable and saves lives. As little as two hours a day in an air conditioned environment will reduce the work load on the heart and lungs and can save the life of a high risk person during heat emergencies.
What is extreme heat?
The National Weather Service issues a high heat alert when the daily heat index reaches 105 degrees and nighttime heat index is over 80 degrees. The heat index is a calculation of the outdoor temperature and relative humidity.
If the outdoor temperature is 94 degrees and the relative humidity is 75 percent, the heat index is 105 degrees. In these conditions, people are urged to take precautions such as limiting strenuous outdoor activity, increasing water consumption and spending time in an air-conditioned environment.
What if you don’t have air-conditioning?
Though uncomfortable, most healthy people can manage for two or three days without air-conditioning and not suffer serious health effects. After about three days though, especially for high risk people, the body loses its ability to efficiently cool itself and heat illness begins to occur.
Some people are reluctant to use the air-conditioner for fear of high utility bills. Most utility companies including the local Reliant Energy, offer assistance which should enable most electricity users to remain healthy while managing the utility expense. Balanced billing equalizes the monthly payments a utility user will pay and will eliminate the high spikes that often occur in July and August. Utility assistance, a monthly bill reduction, is also available to qualified low income applicants.
During periods of heat emergency, utility companies are prohibited from disconnecting residential utilities due to lack of payment until after the crisis.
Do not use a fan in an unair-conditioned room if the room temperature is over 85 degrees. The rapid movement of hot air will accelerate the body’s heating process and can quickly cause heat illness or death. Fans are very useful for cooling in the spring and fall when temperatures are more moderate. Fans will help reduce utility costs in an air-conditioned home by circulating cooled air.
During an extreme heat episode, people living without air-conditioning should seek an air-conditioned environment for a few hours each day. During an extreme heat episode, the City of Houston will make available many public buildings for people to use as a cooling center.
During the heat crisis of 1998, $7.9 million were provided through the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) and through local contributions for heat relief. Most of the money was made available for utility assistance for 9,000 households. The managing agency, Sheltering Arms, also installed 1,800 air conditioning units into previously unair-conditioned homes of high risk residents.
Friends and family members should aggressively monitor the health status of high risk individuals who live without air-conditioning or are reluctant to turn it on, during extreme heat conditions. The elderly are less likely to detect the negative health effects of extreme heat than younger people. A personal visit at least daily to the high-risk person is necessary to evaluate their health and their ability to cope with the temperatures. If the residence is too hot, the high-risk person should be taken to an air-conditioned location.
It has long been known that it is hotter in the city than in rural areas. On an average day, the typical American city will be three to five degrees warmer than nearby rural areas. Cities are generally constructed of materials such as concrete and asphalt which absorbs heat during the day and releases heat at night. Cities have more heat generators such as automobiles, commercial and domestic air conditioners and industrial heat sources. Cities also have less heat reducing vegetation than rural areas. In cities, buildings are frequently close together which reduces the free movement of air. Close buildings also reflect heat and light onto other structures. Experts estimate that the urban heat island effect costs the typical residential utility customer over $25.00 per year.
Residential cooling can be greatly facilitated through the appropriate planting of heat reducing trees and shrubs around the house. Shade trees on the south and southwest side of the home will reduce the direct sunlight onto the roof of the house in the afternoon. Shrubs planted around windows have a cooling effect on the air entering the home through the windows. Grass in the yard will reflect less heat onto the house than concrete or bare ground.
Roofing materials which are lighter in color will reflect, rather than absorb, direct sunlight and keep the attic cooler. Concrete as a paving material absorbs and holds less heat than darker asphalt. Other architectural innovations such as ridge vents, tented windows and light reducing screens will also reduce the energy required to cool a home.
Take Necessary Heat Precautions for Outdoor Workers
The Houston Department of Health and Human Services (HDHHS) reminds people that high heat can be a serious health hazard for outdoor workers.
Extreme heat can have a dramatic effect on an outdoor worker’s comfort and potentially on their health. Please consider the following recommendations to protect the health of people who are required to work outdoors.
• Personal acclimatization to high temperatures is critical to an individual’s ability to cope with high temperatures. All outdoor workers should allow several days to physically adjust to working in high temperature settings.
• Outdoor workers can lose up to two gallons of fluid a day, causing fatigue and other heat-related illnesses that result in reduced productivity and lost time. Most outdoor workers will drink less water than required because thirst is not an adequate indicator of how much essential fluid and electrolytes have been lost. Use electrolyte-replacement beverages when heat and heavy exertion can put workers in danger of dehydration. Workers should consume 16 to 32 ounces of cool fluids per hour when working outside. Very cold fluids can cause stomach cramps. Salt intake should occur with meals. Do not take salt tablets unless directed by a physician. Alcoholic beverages should never be consumed immediately before or during work in high heat.
• The body’s natural reaction to high heat is to slow down activity. Allow for frequent breaks in the shade or air conditioning.
• Some tasks can be accomplished at hours other than the hottest parts of the afternoon. Consider restructuring the daily work load to accomplish the most strenuous tasks during the cooler mornings or evenings.
• Outdoor workers should wear light weight, loose fitting clothing. A brimmed hat will keep the head cooler and provide shade for the face and possibly neck.
• Sunburn will affect the body’s ability to cool itself and causes a loss of body fluid. It also causes pain and damages the skin. Utilize a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher. Follow label instructions.
• Consider excluding from outdoor labor during high heat conditions the following people: anyone over the age of 55; people who are overweight; people with heart and respiratory problems; people with
hypertension; people on medications; people who are or have recently been ill.
High heat can cause the following illnesses:
Heat cramps usually affect people who sweat heavily during strenuous activity. Sweating depletes the body’s salt and moisture. Heat cramps may also be a symptom of heat exhaustion. Heat cramps are muscle pains or spasms, usually in the abdomen, arms or legs, that may occur in association with strenuous activity. If the person has heart problems or is on a low sodium diet, medical attention is necessary.
If medical attention is not necessary, the individual should stop all activity and sit quietly in a cool, shady or air conditioned place. The individual should drink water, clear juice or a sports beverage. The person should not return to strenuous activity for a few hours after the cramp subsides because further exertion may lead to heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Seek medical attention for heat cramps if they do not subside in one hour.
Heat exhaustion is the body’s response to an excessive loss of the water and salt contained in sweat. The most prone to heat exhaustion are the elderly, people with high blood pressure and people working or exercising in high heat. The symptoms of heat exhaustion include: heavy sweating, paleness, muscle cramps, fatigue, weakness, dizziness, headache, nausea or vomiting and fainting. The skin may be cool and moist. The victim’s pulse rate will be fast and weak and breathing will be fast and shallow. If untreated, heat exhaustion may lead to heat stroke.
Medical attention should be sought if the symptoms are severe or the victim has heart problems or high blood pressure. Otherwise, help the victim to cool off and seek medical attention if the symptoms worsen or last longer than one hour. Cooling measures that may be effective include: cool, non-alcoholic beverages, rest, cool shower, bath or sponge bath, air conditioning and removal of heavy clothing.
Heat stroke occurs when the body becomes unable to control its temperature. The body’s temperature rises rapidly, the sweating mechanism fails and the body is unable to cool down. Body temperature may rise to 106 degrees or higher in ten to 15 minutes.
Heat stroke can cause death or permanent disability if emergency treatment is not given quickly. The victim is unlikely to complain due to the confusion caused by heat stroke therefore it is very important to notice if changes in mental status occur.
Warning signs of heat stroke vary but may include: body temperature above 103 degrees; red, hot and dry skin, no sweating; rapid strong pulse; throbbing headache; dizziness; nausea; confusion; unconsciousness. If any of these symptoms occur, you may be dealing with a life-threatening emergency and should call 911 immediately.
Move the victim to a cool, shady place. Cool the victim rapidly using whatever means possible: cool water spray, cool shower, air conditioning. If possible, monitor the body temperature and continue cooling until it drops to 101-102 degrees. Do not give alcoholic beverages to drink.
Sometimes a victim’s muscles will begin to twitch uncontrollably as a result of heat stroke. If this happens, keep the victim from injuring himself, but do not place any object in the mouth and do not give fluids. If vomiting occurs, make sure the airway remains open by turning the victim on his or her side.
Responsible Pet Ownership
The Humane Society of the United States estimates more than 70,000 puppies and kittens are born each day. Unfortunately, not all of these animals will find loving homes as pets.
In Houston and Harris County, approximately 85,000 dogs and cats must be euthanized each year, says John Nix, Division Manager of the City of Houston’s Bureau of Animal Regulation and Care (BARC).
One of the current buzzword phrases in animal control, humane groups and animal activist groups is responsible pet ownership.
“We frequently mention the words and assume citizens know what we are discussing but do they?” Nix asks. “Our experience has been that most citizens do not really understand about being a responsible pet owner. The number of euthanasias each year indicates pets have become a disposable commodity when the burden of pet ownership becomes too onerous.”
What, then, is a responsible pet owner?
Responsible pet owners understand the long-term commitment one must make to a pet. “Once a person makes a decision to provide a home for a dog or cat, it becomes a commitment that will last from 12 to 15 years,” Nix says.
Responsible pet owners take this commitment seriously before they acquire that furry little puppy or that cute little kitten. An irresponsible pet owner simply sees how desirable the animal is and never considers it will mature into a grown dog or cat that requires a lot of attention, care and expense.
Spaying/neutering is good for pets and reduces the pet overpopulation problem. It decreases the chance of reproductive cancer; prevents females from having heat cycles and reduces chances males will spray or mark their territory. Spaying/neutering also lessens the pet’s urge to roam and get lost.
Pets can be neutered at a veterinary clinic or at a spay-neuter clinic. Low-income families can qualify for free spay/neutering services with the Spay-Neuter Assistance Program (SNAP) if they meet income eligibility guidelines. SNAP has a mobile clinic that travels to many different Houston locations. SNAP’s phone number is 713-522-2337. If people don’t qualify for SNAP, they may call the SPCA at 713-869-7722 or the Fund for Animals at 713-863-0010 for low-cost spay/neuter clinics.
Pet owners that plan on breeding animals need to take responsibility during that time – female pets in heat should be kept indoors and away from unaltered males.
Leash and Restraint Laws
Responsible pet owners keep animals restrained or confined at all times. Thousands of citations are issued by BARC to owners for allowing their animals to run loose. Nix says about 2,400 bite cases are reported to BARC each year, mostly from animals allowed to roam at large. Observation of the leash and restraint laws would prevent all these events.
Pets with access to public sidewalks, streets or a neighbor’s property may be impounded. This includes animals tied or staked. There is a charge for reclaiming pets impounded by BARC.
Licensing and Vaccinations
Responsible pet owners have their pets vaccinated against rabies each year. The City of Houston requires all pet owners to license their pets annually. A differential in license fees encourages owners to spay/neuter their pets to prevent unwanted litters that contribute to pet overpopulation .
Rabies can be controlled by vaccinations, licensing of all owned dogs and cats and quarantining animals that bite, scratch or otherwise attack humans.
A license tag will be issued only after proof of rabies vaccination has been provided. The pet must wear the tag at all times. For more information about licensing, call BARC at 713-238-9600.
Responsible pet owners provide regular medical care for their pets. Dogs and cats need regular veterinary check‑ups and not just annual rabies vaccinations. They need annual shots to help prevent diseases. Dogs need regular medication such as a heartworm preventive.
For City of Houston residents, only a Texas licensed veterinarian may vaccinate pets against rabies and give other shots to protect pets from diseases.
Responsible pet owners also understand the most important commodity a pet needs … LOVE!
Houston Spay-Neuter Assistance Program
The Houston Spay-Neuter Assistance Program (SNAP) is an effort to end the crisis of pet overpopulation in Houston. A completely staffed and equipped mobile clinic travels directly into low income neighborhoods for free and safe spaying and neutering. In cooperation with the HDHHS Bureau of Animal Regulation and Care, SNAP provides free rabies vaccinations and licenses to the animals sterilized in the mobile clinic. The cost of running the clinic annually is about $150,000 - a small amount compared to the cost of euthanizing so many thousands of unwanted animals in Houston. SNAP’s mobile clinic is a unique, innovative and humane solution to a seriously escalating urban problem. -- from the SNAP Internet Web Site at https://fundswr.org/snap.shtml