Extreme heat events, whether a single day of extreme temperature, or a heatwave – a prolonged period of high temperatures – pose a risk to our health. In fact, heatwaves are considered to be the ‘silent killer’ of extreme weather events and are the leading cause of weather related deaths in Australia.
Extreme heat can affect anybody, but the people acknowledged most at risk:
- Are aged over 65 years, especially those living alone
- have a medical condition such as diabetes, kidney disease or mental illness
- are taking medications that may affect the way the body reacts to heat such as:
- allergy medicines (antihistamines)
- blood pressure and heart medicines (beta-blockers)
- seizure medicines (anticonvulsants)
- water pills (diuretics)
- antidepressants or antipsychotics
- have problematic alcohol or drug use
- have a disability
- have trouble moving around such as those who are bed bound or in wheelchairs
- pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers
- babies and young children
- are overweight or obese
- work or exercise outdoors
- have recently arrived from cooler climates.
People living in low quality housing, asylum seekers and refugees, and people who live in urban hot spots are also at significantly greater risk.
The Department of Health and Human Services’ revised Heat health plan for Victoria provides recommended actions for health and community service providers to take before, during and after extreme heat. As part of this, a suite of new Survive the Heat resources has been developed to encourage and educate individuals and the community to be aware of the impact of extreme heat on human health. The information is available in a range of formats with a number of resources translated into community languages. The printed resources are available to everyone and can be downloaded or ordered at no cost. Topics covered include:
- Could you or someone you know be at risk?
- Hot cars kill
- Coping with the heat
- How you can help others
- Prepare for extreme heat
- Prepare for a power failure
- Recognising heat-related illnesses
A Heatwave plan review tool has been designed to help health and community service providers that want to review their heatwave plans. The department’s Heat Health Alert System notifies local governments, departmental program areas, hospitals, and statewide or major metropolitan health and community service providers of forecast heatwave conditions which are likely to impact on human health. On business days throughout summer the department will monitor seven-day forecast maximum and minimum temperatures. When the heat health temperature threshold is reached in a specific weather forecast district a heat health alert will be issued. You can subscribe to receive Heat Health Alerts.
In addition, the Department of Health and Human Resources has funded research into extreme heat to better understand its impact on the community. Research areas include:
- reducing harm to older persons from extreme heat
- temperature thresholds for Melbourne and rural Victoria
- urban hot spots.
VCOSS’ 2013 report Feeling the heat: Heatwaves and social vulnerability in Victoria called for the state government to put heatwaves on the same emergency planning level as bushfires and floods. Since then, there has been increased acknowledgement of extreme heat as a risk and heatwave is now considered an emergency risk in Victoria. Emergency Management Victoria’s State Heat Plan is the overarching plan that sets out a coordinated whole-of-government response when forecast extreme heat is predicted to be an emergency.