As climate change is projected to significantly increase people’s exposure to heatwaves, and European weather services are expecting summers to be warmer and drier, WHO/Europe calls on countries to take measures to avoid adverse health impacts.
In the past 50 years, almost 150 000 people in the WHO European Region lost their lives due to extreme temperatures. According to the World Meteorological Organization, 1672 recorded climate- and weather-related disasters took more than 159 000 lives and generated US$ 476.5 billion in economic damages in the Region over the past 50 years. Although 38% of disasters were attributed to floods and 32% to storms, extreme temperatures accounted for 93% of deaths.
Every year, high temperatures affect the health of many people, particularly older people, infants, people who work outdoors and those who are chronically ill. Heat can trigger exhaustion or heat stroke and exacerbate existing conditions such as cardiovascular, respiratory and kidney diseases, as well as mental health problems.
In a report published last February, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) stated that heat is a growing health risk due to burgeoning urbanization, an increase in high-temperature extremes, and demographic changes in countries with ageing populations, like most WHO European Member States.
Measures to adapt to future extreme heatwaves include:
- heat–health action plans that incorporate early warning and response systems for urban and non-urban settings;
- response strategies targeting both the general population and vulnerable groups such as older adults or people who work outside; and
- effective stakeholder communication plans.
These short-term responses can complement other long-term projects, such as urban planning and design that mitigate urban heat island effects.
#KeepCool in the heat!
The adverse health effects of hot weather are primarily preventable through sound public health practices. During the 2022 European Public Health Week, WHO/Europe is launching its annual #KeepCool campaign to remind all people that during periods of hot weather, it is essential to keep cool to avoid negative health effects.
- Keep your home cool. Use the night air to cool down your home, and reduce the heat load inside your apartment or house during the day by using blinds or shutters.
- Keep out of the heat. Avoid going out and engaging in strenuous activity during the hottest time of day, stay in the shade, do not leave children or animals in parked vehicles and, if necessary, spend 2–3 hours of the day in a cool place (such as an air-conditioned public building).
- Keep your body cool and hydrated. Use light and loose-fitting clothing and bed linen, take cool showers or baths, and drink regularly while avoiding alcohol and caffeine.
While taking care of yourself, plan to check on family, friends and neighbours who spend much of their time alone. Vulnerable people might need assistance on hot days. If anyone you know is at risk, help him or her to get advice and support.
If you or others are dizzy, weak, anxious, intensely thirsty or have a headache, seek help. Move to a cool place as soon as possible and measure your body temperature. Drink water or fruit juice to rehydrate. If you have painful muscular spasms, rest immediately in a cool place, drink oral rehydration solutions containing electrolytes and seek help if the heat cramps last more than an hour.
Consult your doctor if you feel unusual symptoms or if symptoms persist. If someone has hot, dry skin and delirium, is experiencing convulsions, or is unconscious, call a doctor or an ambulance immediately.