Jun 10, 2024 - News

New dashboard tracks heat-related illnesses in San Antonio

Illustration of a 3D health cross shape dripping and melting from heat.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Metro Health is now collecting data on San Antonio's heat-related illnesses in a user-friendly dashboard updated weekly.

Why it matters: The dashboard provides information to help leaders decide when to open cooling centers and reminds everyone to take precautions.

How it works: Launched May 20, it tracks the number of heat-related illnesses – dehydration, fainting, heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heatstroke — together with the heat indices by day.

  • It also contains data on illnesses by sex, age and year.
  • Metro Health does not currently have geographic or racial data, spokesperson Sonia Gonzales tells Axios.

What they did: Metro Health previously recorded such illnesses on PDF files that could be downloaded and explored, but the dashboard makes the data more accessible, chief epidemiologist Rita Espinoza tells Axios.

  • Metro Health updated the data source from EMS calls, previously used to build the PDFs, and now pulls information from the Texas Department of State Health Services.
  • The dashboard reflects the number of patients who went to emergency rooms in Bexar County with heat-related illnesses as their diagnoses or main health issue.

By the numbers: So far this year, 60 heat-related illnesses have been reported. Of those, 51 were heat exhaustion cases.

  • 866 cases were reported in 2023.

Yes, but: While Metro Health can track illnesses caused by the heat, tracing the weather's fatal effects has proven more difficult for the Bexar County Medical Examiner's Office due to strict criteria for hyperthermia, data management and understaffing, county spokesperson Tom Peine previously told Axios.

What they're saying: Espinoza tells Axios she hopes the dashboard serves as a reminder for residents to take precautions and look out for neighbors, pets included.

  • "To me it's about prevention, so anything we can do to prevent these illnesses is what we really want to target," she says.

Zoom out: Espinoza points to the city's Beat the Heat campaign, which includes resources for utility assistance, information on cooling centers, action steps for heat conditions and heat island maps.

What we're watching: Whether Metro Health adds geographic and racial data to the dashboard.

  • People of color and from low-income communities are often more vulnerable to heat-related illnesses due to lack of air conditioning and the heat island effect.
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