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June 10, 2011


Heat injuries preventable with proper preparation

Warmer weather finally is making its way into the Fort McCoy area. It’s a good time to brush up on the latest information about heat injuries.

On average, the lives of two or three Soldiers are lost each year because of heat stroke and less-severe forms of exertional heat illness, according to Army statistics. The majority of these deaths occurred during physical fitness training and/or testing. In 2010, more than 200 Soldiers suffered from heat stroke, and hundreds of other Soldiers suffered heat exhaustion and injuries severe enough to warrant medical treatment.

Army officials say the most important fact Soldiers and anyone who is exposed to heat should remember is that heat injuries are preventable with proper preparation. No heat injury needs to be fatal.

Early recognition and treatment of Soldiers or anyone who displays symptoms of heat illness are key to saving lives. Leaders must proactively implement preventive measures, such as composite risk management, to mitigate the threat of heat casualties.
Four variables interact to cause heat illness: 1) climate, including temperature and humidity; 2) intensity and duration of activity; 3) clothing and equipment, such as the wear of body armor; 4) individual risk factors, which may include weight, health, age older than 40, medication use, prior heat injuries, etc.

Personnel exposed to heat should remain properly hydrated, take rest breaks in shaded or cool areas as necessary and avoid exertion during the hottest times of the day, if possible.

Leaders can track temperature and humidity. Safety officials say the risk of heat injuries can start with temperatures as low as 75 degrees, with accompanying high humidity.

Heat injuries also can be more severe in individuals who have sunburn or who have skin rashes, such as those from encountering poison ivy or other hazardous plants. These maladies can interfere with sweating mechanisms, which are one of the main ways bodies can cool off during hot weather. Proper wear of uniforms and/or other clothing can help prevent these illnesses.

Much information exists on how to avoid heat injuries. The U.S. Army Public Health Command (Provisional) website at http://phc.amedd.army.mil/topics/discond/hipss/Pages/HeatinjuryPrevention.aspx, has a lot of heat-injury prevention information and includes the training video “Heat Can Kill.”

Soldiers can keep track of the wet bulb globe temperature at Fort McCoy by calling the heat “2-HOT” number at 608-388-2468. The heat index is used to estimate the effect of temperature, humidity and solar radiation on humans.

Heat-safety information also is available at the various medical organizations on post.

Soldiers can call the Troop Medical Clinic at 608-388-3025.

Members of the Fort McCoy community also should be aware of other heat-injury concerns, according to the Fort McCoy ISO:
Infants and children up to 4 years old are sensitive to high temperatures and rely on others to regulate their environment and provide adequate liquids.

People 65 and older may not compensate for heat stress correctly and are less likely to sense and respond to a change in temperature.

People who are overweight may be more prone to heat sickness because of their tendency to retain more heat.

People who overexert themselves during work or exercise may become dehydrated and susceptible to heat sickness.

People who are physically ill, especially those with heart disease or high blood pressure, or who take certain medications may be affected by extreme heat.

When temperatures in Wisconsin exceed 90 degrees, health experts recommend individuals avoid strenuous activity during the hottest part of the day. If such activity is unavoidable, people should drink plenty of fluids and take frequent breaks in the shade or air-conditioned areas.

No one, especially those who can’t take care of themselves, such as children, disabled individuals or pets, should be left unattended in cars for any length of time. Elderly or ill relatives or neighbors should be checked during hot weather. If necessary, move them to air-conditioned areas during the hottest time of the day. Fans can be used to increase ventilation, although they lose their effectiveness at extremely high temperatures. If temperatures are above 90 degrees, use fans in windows to blow hot air to the outside.

Drink sufficient fluids. Rapid weight loss may be a sign of dehydration so monitoring may help prevent heat injuries.

Federal civilian employees with questions or seeking information about heat injury prevention can call the Occupational Health Clinic, building 1679, at 608-388-2414/3209.

The Installation Safety Office, building 1678, also has a lot of heat injury safety information. Much information also can be found online at the Fort McCoy Extranet Safety Section or by calling 608-388-3403.

(Information in this story is adapted from the Army Medical Command and the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.)

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