Heat Waves and Mortality Risk

The summer months can be a lot of fun, but they are not without risk; for one thing, prolonged heat waves can lead to serious health issues. A recent study, centered on a major American city, has found that spikes in temperature could prove fatal.

Hot Times in Vegas

The city in question was Las Vegas, Nevada, and was conducted by researchers from the Desert Research Institute (DRI), Nevada State College and the Universidad de las Américas Puebla, among other organizations. The goal of this report was to examine the potential relationship between heat wave episodes and heat-related deaths.

Given its location in the hot desert, Las Vegas made a logical choice for this study. Ten years’ worth of data regarding heat waves and heat-related deaths in this city was reviewed and analyzed. Specifically, the authors used recorded heat index and excess heat factor readings collected during the months of June, July and August. The former is used to measure how surface temperatures and relative humidity affect the human body, while the latter measures the impact of heat waves on a given area.

Are Things Heating Up?

So what did the researchers find? The team’s conclusions aren’t especially encouraging for residents of Nevada’s biggest city. “Current climate change projections show an increased likelihood of extreme temperature events in the Las Vegas area over the next several years,” noted Erick Bandala, Ph.D., the report’s senior author and DRI faculty member. “Understanding recent extreme heat trends and their relationship to health hazards is essential to protecting vulnerable populations from risk in the future.”

Bandala further stated that while there were 437 heat-related deaths in Las Vegas over the study’s time frame, the greatest number of those deaths occurred in the study period’s final year (2016). “Interestingly, 2016 also shows one of the highest heat index measures over the last 35 years. This shows a clear relationship between increasingly intense heat events in our area and public health effects,” explained Bandala in a DRI press release.

Despite the bad news, the authors hope their work will encourage state and local officials to implement changes in environmental policy. The study appeared in the International Journal of Environmental Science and Technology.

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