08/11/09 — Heat wave hits Wayne County

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Heat wave hits Wayne County

By Catharin Shepard
Published in News on August 11, 2009 1:46 PM

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Daniel Durant wipes the sweat from his brow in the 97-degree heat early Monday afternoon while working on the U.S. 70 Bypass.

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John Avery, 7, dives into the cool water Monday while swimming at the Nahunta Swim Club.

Some of the hottest days so far this year rolled into the Carolinas this week, baking the asphalt and sending the heat index into triple digits.

With highs in the upper 90s predicted again for today, and the humidity hovering close to 100 percent, staying cool isn't just a matter of comfort but an issue of safety.

Some people are more vulnerable during periods of extreme heat and they and their families should take extra precautions, said Beth Smith, a registered nurse with the Wayne County Services on Aging.

Very young children and the elderly are two age groups that are most prone to dehydrate very quickly, and when seniors become dehydrated, it can lead to serious health problems. Their bodies can begin losing vital nutrients and minerals such as potassium, calcium and sodium.

"These things can affect cardiac muscle function," said Mrs. Smith.

As a simple test for dehydration, gently pinch the skin on the top side of a person's hand. If there's no elasticity or the skin does not immediately fall back into place, that can be a sign of dehydration, she said.

Drinking four to six glasses of water a day, more if you're sweating a lot, can help stave off dehydration. Seniors should avoid drinks that have added nutrients and minerals and stick to plain water, Mrs. Smith advised, and they should stay out of the sun.

"Stay indoors, do not go out unless they absolutely have to," she said. "They really do not need to be out in the heat."

Many times seniors who have air conditioning are afraid to use it because they fear it will raise their electric bill, but it's important for their health to use air conditioning if they have it.

"We really have to stress to them that if you have it, you need to use it, because heat stroke is a real consideration," said Mrs. Smith.

Heat stroke is an even more serious complication that can arise from overheating. Sudden confusion or disorientation is one sign of possible heat stroke in the elderly, and a person who is not sweating but is hot to the touch or has reddish skin may be suffering from heat stroke. The tongue may also develop a whitish appearance in cases of heat stroke, Mrs. Smith said.

If a senior citizen is showing signs of heat stroke, it's best to act quickly on a suspicion rather than wait too late to call for help.

"If it's an elderly person and I saw them like that, I would go ahead and get them there," said Mrs. Smith. "I would not waste any time, at that time I would call 911. Don't wait."

Thanks to a donation from Progress Energy, the Wayne County Services on Aging was able to purchase and give away 30 fans to seniors without air conditioning. The fans went "very fast," said director Eryn McAuliffe, but the senior center in downtown Goldsboro on William Street is air conditioned and welcomes seniors to stop by any time to cool off. The center is open Monday through Thursday, 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. and on Friday from 7:30 a.m. until noon.

"We encourage seniors to come here and beat the heat," said Mrs. McAuliffe.

"If you know someone who's a senior or a couple who are seniors who are living alone, the best thing you can do is check up on them to make sure they're okay," and if you can't do it personally, ask a friend or neighbor to drop by, said Mrs. Smith.

The center also maintains a daily call list and checks up on every elderly person on the list, every day. To request to add a senior citizen to the list, call the Services on Aging at 731-1591.

Children are also especially vulnerable to heat, said Mel Powers, emergency management and security director with Wayne County Emergency Services.

"You never want to leave a child in a car, even with the windows rolled down," said Powers.

"A child's body temperature can rise three to five times faster than an adult's, so they need to keep an eye on them," Powers said.

Even healthy adults should take care not to get overheated, and should stay hydrated and take frequent breaks if they must be outdoors.

"It's going to be over 100 degree heat index, anything they can do inside, they need to do inside. Limit outdoor activity," said Powers.

Wearing light-colored clothing and cooling off in the shade when necessary is important for adults as well as children.

As thousands of air conditioning units strain to cool heated air inside homes and businesses, the amount of electricity required to power the systems can put a strain on electric companies if they are not prepared to meet the demand.

David McNeil, a spokes-man for Progress Energy said that his company does not anticipate any difficulty in keeping the power on to all of its customers during the heat wave.

"It is extremely hot, as August typically is. We do not anticipate any problems meeting customer demand today," said McNeil.

A slight respite may be on the way, with temperatures predicted to be in the 80s for the rest of the week.