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July 13, 2012


Prevention, recognition, treatment
of heat injuries key to saving lives

Outdoor activities are one way to enjoy the warm summer weather, but personnel should be mindful that high temperatures pose a significant risk for heat injury.

According to the U.S. Army Public Health Command, first prevention, then early recognition and treatment of heat injuries are critical to curbing weather-related deaths.

One helpful source is Technical Bulletin Medical 507, which can be accessed at http://phc.amedd.army.mil/topics/discond/hipss/Pages/HeatInjuryPrevention.aspx, along with other heat injury related material. The manual describes the symptoms of and treatment protocols for the three most-common heat injuries:

PHOTO: Guests at the Squaw Lake beach take to the water as a way to mitigate the effects of hot weather at Fort McCoy. Photo by Rob Schuette
Guests at the Squaw Lake beach take to the water as a way to mitigate the effects of hot weather at Fort McCoy. The installation experienced temperatures in the 90s, with heat indices surpassing the 100-degree mark during the first days of July. (Photo by Rob Schuette)

Heat cramp symptoms: Spasms in the arms, legs or stomach. Treatment: Sip water, massage cramping areas and replace lost salt through food. Never take salt tablets unless directed by a physician.

Heat exhaustion symptoms: Headaches, paleness, clammy skin, excessive sweating, difficulty breathing, loss of appetite, nausea and exhaustion. Treatment: Sip water, lie in a shaded area and rest, and loosen or remove clothing.

Heat stroke symptoms: Headache, dizziness, delirium, nausea, vomiting and body temperature of 106 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. Treatment: Heat stroke is a medical emergency and can be fatal. Immediately call 911 and follow the dispatcher’s instructions for treatment to perform before help arrives. Reducing body temperature is paramount in rescue efforts, and the most-effective cooling strategy entails removing the victim’s clothing and immersing him or her in cool or iced water while massaging the skin (ice sheets or ice packs are acceptable if immersion isn’t possible). Anyone suspected to be suffering from heat stroke should be transported to a hospital immediately, preferably by trained medical professionals such as paramedics.

Many heat injuries are preventable, and none need be fatal. Leaders must assess their unit’s mission and training requirements against the risk associated with operating in warm weather environments. Heat illness prevention requires a comprehensive approach that incorporates risk management, education, acclimatization, and appropriate adjustment of activities to reduce risk.

Individual risk factors include: lack of heat acclimatization, cumulative exposure to heat, poor physical fitness, being overweight, concurrent illness, use of prescription and over-the-counter medications (such as antihistamines, blood pressure pills, and others), use of various dietary supplements (such as the stimulants synephrine and ephedra), recent or concurrent alcohol use, prior history of serious heat illness, certain skin disorders, inadequate hydration, and age older than 40.

Conducting operations in hot and humid environments, even with temperatures as low as 75 degrees, produces the most heat casualties.

Personnel in the Fort McCoy community who need an evaluation of heat injury symptoms should contact the Occupational Health Clinic (civilians) at 608-388-3209 or the Troop Medical Clinic (servicemembers) at 608-388-3025. Both are located in the Health Clinic, building 2669.

Sun protection also should be considered while training or participating in outdoor activities.

Sunscreen with an SPF 30 or higher should be applied approximately 30 minutes before sun exposure and reapplied at least every two hours throughout the day. Sunscreen should be applied 30 minutes before applying a repellent containing DEET.

When possible, work and rest should be conducted in shaded areas especially between 1 and 4 p.m. when the sun’s rays are strongest.

Personnel also should wear wide-brimmed hats to protect eyes, head and neck, and wear light-colored, loose-fitting clothing to cover arms, legs and torso. Eyewear should block UV rays and be wraparound in design, if possible, to protect eyes from rays that come from the front and sides.

The Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security Range Control continually monitors the heat index and routinely transmits the heat category (1-5) to units training in the field. The heat category can also be accessed 24/7 by calling 2-HOT (2-2468 or 608-388-2468).

At Fort McCoy the diversity of the terrain can cause the heat index to vary from location to location. The heat index reading is taken at a central location on the cantonment area and individuals must recognize it may be greater at areas such as paved roads and lots, open fields, and sandy locations.

At Fort McCoy the Installation Safety Office, building 1678, has a variety of heat-injury prevention materials for personnel working or training at the installation. For more information, call 608-388-3403.

(Information compiled from the U.S. Army Combat Readiness/Safety Center, the U.S. Army Public Health Command and the Fort McCoy Installation Safety Office.)

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