NEW YORK CITY – November 15, 2006 – The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) today released findings on deaths related to the summer’s heat waves, including an analysis of the 40 heat stroke deaths that resulted from the July 27th to August 5th heat wave, which had been previously confirmed by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. In addition, DOHMH used statistical modeling to assess whether deaths from natural causes (such as heart disease and lung disease) increased during this period. The death rate was found to be 8% above expected (approximately 100 deaths), an increase similar to other heat waves in recent summers in New York City. The report is available online at http://www.nyc.gov/html/doh/downloads/pdf/survey/survey-2006heatdeaths.pdf.
DOHMH reviewed the 40 heat stroke deaths to learn more about risks and to help prevent future deaths. While complete information was not available for all of the deaths, the investigation revealed that the traditional risk factors for heat stroke played an important role in these deaths. Key findings include:
- Most heat stroke deaths (53%) occurred among adults 65 years and older.
- More than two thirds (68%) of people who died had multiple medical conditions.
- Most people who died (68%) had cardiovascular disease. Twenty-eight percent had a psychiatric or cognitive disorder and 23% had diabetes.
- Only two of the 40 people who died from heat stroke were known to have a functioning air conditioner in their home.
- Most heat stroke victims (53%) did not live alone.
"Many heat stroke deaths are preventable," said Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas R. Frieden. "Older people and those who are mentally or physically ill were at higher risk of heat stroke death and need extra assistance during extreme heat. Air conditioning can save lives, particularly for the elderly people who have medical problems."
DOHMH also reviewed all six heat stroke deaths that occurred during a shorter heat wave from July 16 -18, coinciding with a blackout in Queens. While five of the six deaths occurred in Queens, only one of them occurred in the outage area. That death was found not to have been outage-related, as the victim was homeless and died in a vehicle.
From 2000 through 2006, New York City experienced 21 large heat waves lasting five days or longer (a heat wave is generally defined as maximum temperature 90º F for higher for three or more consecutive days). The 2006 July-August heat wave was the longest and hottest in many years, lasting 10 days with temperatures above 100º F for three days consecutively. The number of heat stroke deaths exceeded any summer with known heat waves since 1952, when 61 heat stroke deaths occurred. While the high number of heat stroke deaths is partly due to the duration and intensity of this heat wave, improved detection may have played a role in the increase from prior years.
Tips to Prevent Heat-Related Deaths
Before a Heat Wave:
- Maintain a well-functioning air conditioner. Identify a nearby cooling center and make plans to relocate those at high risk for heat stroke and their families, if appropriate.
- Clinicians and community organizations can educate at-risk persons and their families about their risks and ways to prevent, and identify symptoms of heat stroke and heat-related deaths.
During a Heat Wave:
- Limit outdoor activity and drink more non-alcoholic fluids.
- Use an air-conditioner while indoors or go to a cooling center. For proper energy conservation, units should be set at 78° F.
- Family and friends can remind at-risk persons about limiting activity, increasing non-alcoholic fluid intake, and the importance of air conditioning and monitor them signs of heat exhaustion (including fatigue, headache, dizziness, rapid heartbeat).
The Health Department works with the Office of Emergency Management and other City agencies to support New Yorkers during extreme heat. For more information on heat wave preparedness, please visit http://www.nyc.gov/html/oem/html/hazards/heat.shtml.