FORT LEE, Va. – As Team Lee experiences the hottest days of summer, heat illness should be a health and safety concern for every member of the community.
According to statistics maintained by the Military Health System, close to 3,000 military members were incapacitated by heat exhaustion or hospitalized by heat stroke in 2018, the last year a comprehensive analysis was conducted. It is the listed cause of more than 330 deaths annually on average across the U.S.
Prevention of heat injuries requires an assessment of hot weather conditions prior to all recreational, job- and military mission-related activities. Organization leaders and responsible individuals (parents, planners of group outings, supervisors, etc.) must identify the risk, implement appropriate controls and monitor safety measures.
Military units mitigate the risk of heat injuries through careful monitoring of Wet Bulb Globe Temperatures at every training site and the implementation of work/rest/hydration requirements for each heat category. Civilians can practice a similar strategy using the heat category warnings sent out by the Installation Operations Center via post-wide email. The National Weather Service also offers a WBGT application that includes preparedness and safety tips at www.weather.gov/tsa/wbgt.
The best and most obvious safeguard against heat injuries is to limit strenuous outdoor activities to early morning or later evening hours when the weather is cooler. If heading outdoors in the middle of the day is unavoidable, the potential for harm can be reduced by frequent rest and cool-down breaks in a shaded area. Additionally, water drinking schedules must be established and enforced according to the expected heat category.
As a general rule, water should be re-supplied and available every three hours or less. Individuals can determine how much water in ounces they should drink daily by dividing their body weight in half. Fluid intake should not exceed 1-1/2 quarts per hour, keeping in mind that too much water also poses a health risk (read more on this subject at safety.army.mil/MEDIA/Risk-Management-Magazine/ArtMID/7428/ArticleID/5874).
Knowledge of the various types of heat injuries and their symptoms is important as well. The following is a brief overview of serious health problems caused by heat:
• Heat stroke is the most serious of all injuries. It occurs when the body’s temperature regulating system fails and internal heat rises to critical levels. Symptoms of heat stroke include confusion, loss of consciousness, seizures, very high body temperature and hot, dry skin or profuse sweating. Heat stroke is a life-threatening emergency – call 911 and get immediate help.
• Heat exhaustion is the next most-serious heat injury. Symptoms include headache, nausea, dizziness, weakness, irritability, thirst, heavy sweating, elevated body temperature and decreased urine output. Signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion require medical evaluation and treatment – call 911 immediately.
• Heat cramps may not be life threatening, but they require an immediate response to keep the problem from getting worse. The cause of heat cramps is usually attributed to a reduction in electrolytes – essential minerals like sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium. Many sports drinks have ingredients that counteract this issue, but it’s important to check the label for undesirable contents like excessive sugar and caffeine. When treating heat cramps, move the individual to a shaded area and give fluids to restore needed hydration. If symptoms persist or get worse, seek medical attention.
Technical Bulletin 507, “Heat Stress Control and Heat Casualty Management,” covers all aspects of heat injury prevention, including heat mitigation, monitoring the Wet Bulb Globe Thermometer, fluid and electrolyte replacement and proper ways to conduct heat injury risk assessments. The publication is available at www.usariem.army.mil/assets/docs/publications/articles/2003/tbmed507.pdf.
The U.S. Army Public Health Command for Environmental Medicine also provides immediate resources regarding heat illness prevention. These are available through the USAPHC website at phc.amedd.army.mil/topics/discond/hipss/Pages/default.aspx.
To obtain local information and assistance, contact the Kenner Army Health Clinic Environmental Health section at 804-734-9652.