Troops get a few tips on what to do when the heat is on
July 13, 2004
According to the calendar, the summer of 2004 is almost a month old.
According to the thermometer, spring’s still hanging around.
But while current forecasts are predicting cooler temperatures across much of Europe than in last year’s deadly heat wave, the weather will soon get warmer.
It always does. So military medical experts across the continent are trying to get the word out to their communities: Be prepared when temperatures soar.
“We’re cognizant that people have to be reminded about summer hazards each year,” says Lt. Col. Mark Lovell, deputy commander for the U.S. Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine-Europe.
Especially at risk, Lovell says, are young children, retirees and those with existing health conditions. While the most common summer ailment might be sunburn, there are far more serious conditions that can occur.
That was demonstrated last summer when thousands died in countries such as France, Germany, Spain and Italy as hotter-than-normal temperatures lingered for weeks.
The Europe Regional Medical Command says American military communities, however, weathered the heat fairly well. It says it saw only a minimal increase in heat-related cases.
That’s attributed, officials say, to the nature of the American military population — skewed toward young, healthy people — education and experience.
Troops are told to watch for signs from their buddies that something’s wrong — and get them to medical attention quickly. But Lovell said most of those in the military aren’t in high-risk categories, unless they’re engaged in heavy physical activity.
“Our risk of injuries comes more from exertion,” Lovell says.
So units are advised to take the heat into account when scheduling special activities or when going through normal routines.
Many heat-related illnesses can be spotted as they develop. Flushed faces, physical or mental fatigue, confusion and fainting are warning signs.
Loss of water and salt can cause heat cramps. Heat exhaustion is more serious, with problems exhibited such as nausea, vomiting, elevated temperatures and disorientation. Heatstroke is the most serious, with victims sometimes losing consciousness and even dying.
Lovell says that’s what happened to many Europeans last summer — especially the elderly who were living on their own.
There are a handful of measures people can take to lessen their risks. Wear sunscreen and drink liquid at regular intervals when outside. Scale down activities when it’s hot, especially in an environment that you’re not acclimated to. For example, those coming from much hotter environments — such as Iraq — will face generally cooler temperatures, but more humidity, when returning to Europe. Those with medical conditions such as high blood pressure, heart conditions or diabetes, or pregnant women, infants and retirees are at greater risk of heat-related illnesses, Lovell says.
So, is it going to be a hot one?
The answer appears to be yes, with an asterisk.
“For the most part, especially in Germany, we are expecting temperatures to be slightly above normal, but not nearly the records we saw last summer,” says Capt. Louis Lusssier of the U.S. Air Forces in Europe Operational Weather Squadron in Sembach, Germany.
Thousands died from heat-related illnesses in Europe last summer as high temperatures hit much of the continent for weeks.
So far this year, temperatures in Germany have been unseasonably cool. It’s been warmer until recently in Italy and temperatures were in the triple digits in parts of Spain last week.
Currently, the warmest temperatures are in the Balkans and Turkey, with two heat-related deaths in Romania over the weekend. Lussier says making long-range projections is a tricky business, with historical references and current patterns playing a role. He says he could guess when it might be the best time to vacation at a beach on the Mediterranean, “but I wouldn’t base a vacation on it.”
— Kent Harris