Dr. Raina Fumerton, northwest medical health officer. (Photo courtesy, Northern Health)
Dr.Raina Fumerton, northwest medical health officer. (Photo courtesy, Northern Health)

Dr. Raina Fumerton, northwest medical health officer. (Photo courtesy, Northern Health) Dr.Raina Fumerton, northwest medical health officer. (Photo courtesy, Northern Health)

Northern Health doctor offers advice to cope with heat waves

Heat waves can no longer be ignored as climate change becomes a reality says Dr. Raina Fumerton

With the third heat wave of the summer underway in B.C., health authorities are stressing the importance of adequate health and safety measures for residents to combat hotter temperatures.

“The recent heat wave was unprecedented,” said Northern Health’s Dr. Raina Fumerton about June’s hot weather which saw hundreds of heat-wave related deaths across B.C.

Preliminary estimates by BC Coroner Service reported 570 heat-related deaths across the province between June 20 and July 29. July. Northern Health had 20 heat-related deaths based on the Coroners Service statistics.

“We didn’t expect it to be so significant but it was a wake up call,” said the medical health officer for northwest.

Although B.C.’s north was not as badly affected, Northern Health still witnessed a large volume of 911 calls for ambulances during the previous two heat wave episodes between June and July.

“As a fairly young and healthy person even I found it difficult to cope with the heat wave,” said Fumerton, which is why she is joining doctors across B.C.’s health sector to give out health and safety tips for residents.

Since June, there have been a couple more instances of heat waves in Terrace. And according to a United Nations report on global warming and climate change, more such events are expected to occur in the future.

READ MORE: UN data projects adverse effects of climate change on Terrace area

“In the north we didn’t have to typically worry about heat waves in the past but now it is some thing that we cannot ignore,” said Fumerton, and added, “With climate change having such impacts these events are no longer unexpected.”

She said that health authorities in the region are working together with meteorological partners and local media to spread awareness and are advising residents to watch and listen to local weather forecasts so they can be prepared.

This is especially important because the northwest has a high rate of chronic illnesses which can put people suffering from these conditions at risk.

When temperatures rise, it can be problematic for people with illnesses that affect their heart and their ability to breathe, as well as infants, children and senior people who are above 65, said Fumerton.

Also at risk are marginalized people without a stable place to live, especially in places like Terrace which has a significant population of people experiencing homelessness. (Based on the 2021 homeless count report released by the City of Terrace last month there are at least 85 people experiencing homelessness).

In June during the heatwave, the City of Terrace teamed up with Northern Health, the provincial government and service agencies to set up a cooling centre at Sportsplex.

As future predictions indicate hotter average temperatures for the region, Fumerton suggests a few simple and effective measures for northwest residents to follow during a heat wave:

  • Hydrate and drink lots of fluids even before you’re thirsty.
  • Avoid exercising and strenuous activities in the hot sun.
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol.
  • Wear loose fitting clothes and try to stay cool.
  • Splash on sunscreen, higher the SPF the better.
  • Don’t leave kids and pets in cars.
  • Talk to your doctor and see if you are at risk based on your health conditions or the medicines you’re taking.
  • Check in on socially isolated people, friends, family and neighbours who are living alone.
  • If there are no air conditioners at home, take cold showers to cool down

For more information visit HealthLinkBC