[ The Real McCoy Online Home ]                                                                                                                        June 26, 2009

Soldiers can take steps to prevent 
heat injuries during the summer

By Sam Reynolds, U.S. Army Combat Readiness/Safety Center

The weather forecasters are predicting another hot summer so it is best that everyone be prepared for the summerís heat. Each year, heat illness and injury pose a significant threat to Army personnel, both on and off duty.

Soldiers are exposed to hot environments during deployments and training events and, when off duty, they and their families are exposed to the summer heat during outdoor activities.

Between 2004 and 2008, heat-related injuries were diagnosed at more than 300 medical facilities worldwide. However, 14 facilities treated at least 200 cases each and accounted for approximately 60 percent of all cases. Since 2005, rates of heat stroke have been fairly stable, and rates of heat exhaustion have slightly declined. In recent years, annual numbers of hospitalized cases (the most clinically severe) of both heat stroke and heat exhaustion have been stable.

Military activities in hot and humid environments are persistent, significant threats to the health and operational effectiveness of service-members. Of all servicemembers, the youngest and most inexperienced are at highest risk of heat-related injuries.

It is especially important for Soldiers to remember how to protect themselves, their battle buddies and their families from heat-related injuries. Early recognition of heat injuries is critical to prevent progression to more serious heat injury and death, according to Col. John Campbell, U.S. Army Combat Readiness/Safety Center command surgeon.

Minor heat illnesses such as heat cramps are the first sign of heat injury and can lead to heat exhaustion which can in turn lead to a major heat injury like heat stroke.

Heat cramps are painful muscle spasms that occur in the abdomen, arms or legs. They affect those who sweat profusely in the heat and drink large quantities of water, but fail to adequately replace the bodyís salt loss.

Heat exhaustion is the most common heat injury. A person suffering from heat exhaustion still sweats but experiences extreme weakness or fatigue, nausea or headache. An individual suffering from heat exhaustion may have clammy and moist skin, pale or flushed complexion with a normal or slightly elevated body temperature. Other warning signs may include heavy sweating, unsteady walk, dizziness, giddiness, rapid pulse and shortness of breath. Heat stroke is the most serious heat injury associated with hot environments. It occurs when the bodyís temperature regulatory system fails and sweating becomes inadequate. The bodyís only effective means of removing excess heat is compromised with little warning to the victim that a crisis stage has been reached.

A heat stroke victimís skin is hot, usually dry with no sweating, red or spotted and their body temperature is usually 104 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. Other warning signs include rapid, strong pulse, mental confusion, throbbing headache, dizziness or nausea. Symptoms can quickly progress to loss of consciousness, coma or seizure. Heat stroke is a medical emergency and can lead to death.

"Leaders and Soldiers must do more than just have water available," said Campbell. "Heat injury prevention is a command and leadership as well as a personal responsibility. Learn to recognize the signs and symptoms of heat injuries and what you can do to protect yourself and your family."

Additional information and valuable heat injury prevention resources such as posters, videos, and pocket guides are available on the U.S. Army Combat Readiness/Safety Centerís Web site at https://safety.army.mil or through the U.S. Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine Web site at http://chppm-www.apgea.army.mil/heat/.

In the Fort McCoy community, military personnel working or training at the installation can keep track of weather conditions, including the Wet Bulb Globe Temperature Index conditions, by calling 2-2HOT or 608-388-2468.

Personnel training in the field are reminded that conditions vary throughout the installation, thus the index may be higher or lower at various training areas. Additionally, degrees must be added to the recorded index if dressed in mission-oriented protective posture clothing.

For further information, contact the Installation Safety Office at 608-388-3403 or stop by building 1678.

Seasonal and general safety information also is available in the safety section of the Fort McCoy Intranet, which is accessible through the public Web site at http://www.mccoy.army.mil.


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