Jul 20, 2023 - Climate

Older adults, children are vulnerable in San Antonio heat wave

Illustration of a fire graphic on a caution street sign.

Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios

The intense heat wave that continues to engulf San Antonio has the potential to cause anyone who spends too much time outside to be hospitalized, and it can quickly turn deadly for vulnerable residents.

Why it matters: Older adults, children, homeless people and outdoor workers are especially susceptible to developing heat-related illnesses, Ralph Riviello, chief of emergency medicine at University Health, tells Axios.

Zoom in: Certain medications, some often taken by older adults, including those for high blood pressure and heart disease, make it harder for the body to sweat and regulate its temperature, Riviello says.

Be smart: Overnight temperatures are warmer than they used to be. That means people who are unsheltered at night don't have a chance to cool down in the evening.

By the numbers: San Antonio has tied or set new record high temperatures nine days so far this summer, Victor Murphy of the National Weather Service tells Axios.

  • From June 1 to Wednesday, San Antonio had 25 days with temperatures at or above 100°, Murphy says.
  • The same time period last year had 34 such days, which was a record.

Context: Human-caused climate change is worsening heat waves by making them more intense, longer-lasting and more likely to occur, Axios' Andrew Freedman reports.

Threat level: The University Health emergency room at the Medical Center has seen 30 people for heat-related causes this year, compared with 22 during all of last year, spokesperson Elizabeth Allen tells Axios.

  • Most cases are mild, but doctors have seen four or five cases of serious heat stroke this year, Riviello says.
  • Heat stroke can be life-threatening and lead to organ failure.

Plus: The city's Metropolitan Health Department reported more cases of heat exhaustion in June this year than in any June since 2018, when the city began tracking heat illness.

  • Officials logged 148 cases of heat exhaustion and five cases of heat stroke last month.
  • There have been 151 cases of heat exhaustion so far in July and another five cases of heat stroke, per the tally.

Reality check: There are more people suffering from heat illnesses who don't seek medical attention and aren't tallied.

What they're saying: "You still have to take precautions," Riviello says. "Just because you live in Texas, doesn't mean you're immune."

Pro tips: If you have to be exposed to the heat, know where to go to cool down.

  • Drink lots of water and electrolyte drinks like Gatorade.
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol, which dehydrate you.
  • Wear loose-fitting, light-colored clothing.
  • Take frequent rest breaks.

The bottom line: "If you don't have to be outside, don't be outside," Riviello says.


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