The South African Weather Service (SAWS) has issued a heatwave warning as several provinces experience temperatures as high as 40°C. It's anticipated that the high maximum temperatures will persist.
The good news is that we can take action to protect our most vulnerable against extreme heat.
Heat-related illnesses can present with symptoms such as fatigue and cramps. Without intervention, they can progress to heat exhaustion or heat stroke.
There is a specific criterion that the SAWS applies to each town or city, to determine whether heat ave conditions are met.
A heatwave may be declared if a maximum temperature for a particular place is expected to meet or exceed 5ºC above the average maximum temperature during the “hottest month” for that area, and persists for at least three days.
According to the United States Environmental Protection on Climate Change Indicators, excessive heat might raise the risk of dying from a heart attack, other cardiac disorders, or respiratory illnesses like pneumonia.
Some studies indicate that overheating causes more than 1 300 fatalities in the US annually. In contrast to what death certificates might indicate, scientists have discovered that severe heat causes a far greater number of fatalities.
In addition, the World Health Organization says heatwaves are among the most deadliest natural disasters, yet they rarely attract enough attention because the death toll and destruction are not often immediately apparent.
More than 166 000 people died as a result of heatwaves between 1998 and 2017, with more than 70 000 of the fatalities occurring in Europe during the 2003 heatwave.
Why is it important to keep yourself and others safe during a heatwave?
The most serious heat-related sickness is heat stroke. The world health organisation reports that in high temperatures, the body's temperature rises quickly, the sweating system malfunctions as a result of the body's inability to control its temperature, and failure to control body temperature can lead to a heat stroke, which if not treated right away, could cause severe disability or death.
What precautions can I take to keep my body cool?
During a heatwave, it's important to stay hydrated and keep your body cool by taking cool showers or baths. Additionally, you can use towels, sponging, foot baths, cold packs, and wraps to stay cool.
What can I do if I start to feel sick during a heatwave?
It is essential to shift to a cool location as quickly as you can during a heatwave, especially if you have symptoms like lightheadedness, fatigue, anxiety, intense thirst or a headache. You should also monitor your body temperature.
No one is immune to the dangers of heatwaves which can be dangerous and lead to heat-related illnesses even for healthy people.
However, some group, such as children and the elderly, are more vulnerable to heat-related illness than the general population.
We all lose body water every day in normal circumstances through sweat, tears and breathing. However, excessive sun exposure, combined with dehydration, can result in the body losing vital minerals like sodium and potassium.
The SAWS offers recommendations to protect yourself from the heatwave:
* Remain indoors in a place with good ventilation or air conditioning.
* If working outside, put on safety gear (headgear and so on) and take breaks as needed.
* Avoid physically demanding activities like intense sports or prolonged manual labour, to reduce your chance of developing heat exhaustion or sunstroke.
* Don loose-fitting, breathable clothing that is cool to the touch.
* If spending any amount of time outside, wear a hat (ideally with a wide brim) and apply plenty of sunscreen.
* Drink plenty of liquids to stay properly hydrated (not alcohol).
* Ideally, children should not be allowed to play outside between 1pm and 4pm.