Americans largely avoided ill effects of Europe's heat wave
August 31, 2003
Americans stationed in Europe largely avoided the worst effects of an unusually hot summer that has been blamed for thousands of deaths across Europe.
Military medical facilities have treated only a few patients for serious maladies caused by the heat, according to Col. Loren Erickson, commander of the U.S. Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine Europe.
“Really just a handful of cases” have been seen, he said.
The most serious was a member of the retiree community who was treated at a hospital in Germany in August. But that patient, who was suffering from heatstroke, didn’t even require an overnight stay at the hospital.
Other than that, Erickson said one servicemember was treated in May for heat exhaustion and another in June for heatstroke.
Heatstroke is characterized by high fever and dry skin. It sometimes causes convulsions or can result in a coma. Heat exhaustion is characterized by dizziness, nausea and clammy skin.
Erickson believes several factors contributed to the relative good health of the overseas American population during the hot spell.
Much of the military population is young and active, he said, and “not really in the group that would have been most vulnerable.”
Elderly people, such as the thousands who died in France and other countries, are generally less able to deal with the heat, he said.
He said education and training, as well as a blitz of promotions on American Forces Network television, might have served to make people take more precautions as well.
“You certainly would like to think that those things are effective,” he said.
Another reason is the large number of personnel from Europe deployed elsewhere. Erickson said servicemembers often fall victim to heat injuries during summer training in Europe. But much of that training has been shelved.
Of course, many of those personnel are in places such as Iraq, where the temperatures are much hotter than in Europe, reaching into the 130-degree Fahrenheit range at times. But the Army’s Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, traditionally the hot spot in Europe for treating casualties from large deployments, hasn’t seen large numbers of soldiers from Iraq or Afghanistan flown in because of heat-related problems.
August has been the busiest month by far, with six cases of heatstroke and 18 cases of heat exhaustion brought to the facility, according to a release from the Europe Regional Medical Command in Heidelberg, Germany. But the hospital didn’t treat more than three patients a month before that.
Erickson said that with cooler temperatures starting to be felt in much of Europe, “I think the greatest risk has already passed us now.”
“That’s not to say we don’t have to remain somewhat vigilant, especially those of us who have to go through some training.”
The Europe Regional Medical Command has several tips to help people avoid heat-related problems. They include:
• Drinking plenty of liquids• Replacing salts and other minerals• Wearing appropriate clothing and sunscreen• Adjusting activities according to the temperatures• Monitoring those in high-risk groups, such as children or the elderly• Generally staying out of the sun, especially during the hottest part of the day.