Wayne County residents are being urged to exercise caution today as the county bakes under temperatures near 98 degrees and a heat index as high as 106 degrees.

Despite the chance of showers and thunderstorms overnight and into Wednesday, no relief is in sight for Wednesday as the high will be near 95 degrees, with a heat index value as high as 103.

It will be at least Friday before the temperature falls below 90.

Children, older individuals, outdoor workers and those with chronic health conditions are most vulnerable to the heat.

Also, don't forget outside pets.

A heat advisory is in effect for counties east of U.S 1 from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. today as the combination of heat and humidity will result in apparent temperatures topping 105 degrees.

A heat advisory means that a period of hot temperatures is expected, and hot temperatures and high humidity will create a situation in which heat illnesses are possible.

North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services officials are urging people to take steps to protect themselves from heat-related illnesses because of the sweltering heat expected to impact parts of the state this week.

"High temperatures, along with high humidity levels can be dangerous," said State Health Director and DHHS Chief Medical Officer Betsey Tilson. "People spending time outdoors for work or recreation should protect themselves from the sun and drink plenty of fluids to minimize risk of heat-related illness."

People also need to know the signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion and heatstroke that include muscle cramps, fatigue, weakness, dizziness, fainting, headaches, nausea and vomiting.

Heat-related illness is preventable with proper precautions, health officials said.

However, every summer there are about 3,000 heat-related illness emergency department visits.

To reduce risk of heat-related illness health officials recommend:

* Increase fluid intake.

* Take frequent breaks in cool or air-conditioned places if spending extended time outside.

* Reduce normal activity levels.

* Speak with your physician about how to stay safe if you take medicines that make you more vulnerable to heat, such as drugs for high blood pressure, migraines, allergies, muscle spasms, mental illness and tranquilizers.

* Check on neighbors, and if working outdoors, check on your co-workers.

* Never leave children or pets unattended in vehicles, especially during warm or hot weather, as temperature levels inside a car can reach a lethal level in a matter of minutes.

* Wear light weight and loose-fitting clothing when possible.

For more information on how to prevent heat-related health issues and to learn about heat-related illness in North Carolina, visit: http://publichealth.nc.gov/chronicdiseaseandinjury/heat.htm.

Individuals and families are also encouraged to check with their county department of social services about the availability of and their eligibility for Crisis Intervention Program funds and free fans.