As we keep saying to each other: “The heat is on!” We are all shocked by the soaring temperatures across the island. On June 22, the Meteorological Service of Jamaica recorded the highest temperature on record in Kingston – just over 39 degrees Celsius or 102 degrees Fahrenheit. Professor Michael Taylor of the Climate Studies Group at the University of the West Indies declared on the radio:“Really we need to treat this heat as a climate emergency, just as we would a hurricane.” I agree with Prof! Who is wonderful, by the way – a great communicator on a very tricky subject to explain. He notes also that climate change – including this terrible heat – will impact our whole way of life. Moreover, we did not get enough rain in the expected rainy month of May, so drought will persist. We must ensure water security on an individual level.
For the past week or so, the unbearable heat has been the main topic of conversation, on and off social media. These kinds of temperatures in June are simply unheard of – our hottest month is July, I understand. We have also been talking about climate departure – something reported at least six years ago, but we didn’t pay it much mind at the time. It’s a “tipping point,” one in which the climate changes irreversibly. Kingston is expected to reach this point as early as 2023 to 2025 – just four years to six years away. When we reach it, in Professor Taylor’s words:
“Even the coolest year will be hotter than the hottest year we have seen.”
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Health and Wellness has set us straight on the dangers of heat stroke – and how to take care of ourselves in the raging heat. Suddenly, I feel somewhat fragile.
Take care of yourselves, everyone!
KINGSTON, Jamaica. 25 June 2019. The Ministry of Health and Wellness is reminding the public that excessive heat stress is harmful to health and is potentially fatal.
Jamaica, like other countries in the Caribbean, has a heat season that is typically between May and October each year. This year, extremely high temperatures are being recorded. The public is, therefore, advised to take precautionary measures to reduce exposure to heat and limit the serious effects it can have on the body.
“Heat-related illnesses include heat exhaustion, heat rash, heat (muscle) cramps, and the most severe illness, heat stroke. Heat Stroke may be fatal,” cautioned Dr. Nicole Dawkins-Wright, Director of Emergency, Disaster Management and Special Services at the Ministry of Health and Wellness.
Signs associated with a heat stroke include a very high body temperature (above 103 degrees Fahrenheit), hot and dry skin, a throbbing headache and dizziness. Other signs include altered mental state or behavior, nausea, vomiting, flushed skin, rapid breathing, and a racing heart rate.
“If any of these signs are noted, seek medical assistance immediately while finding ways to cool down the person, such as sponging with cold water, wrapping the person in a wet, cold sheet and fanning the person vigorously,” advised Dawkins-Wright.
Extreme heat stress may also trigger decompensation [organ failure] in some medical conditions, such as diabetes and hypertension. Some persons are also at greater risk of being affected by heat. Among the most vulnerable are the elderly, as well as infants and children younger than six years of age, persons who are overweight and those with pre-existing medical conditions.
In order to prevent illness associated with the heat, members of the public are encouraged to:
- Hydrate with cool water, especially when it is hot and humid;
- Drink more fluids, limit or avoid sugar-sweetened drinks and beverages that contain alcohol;
- Drink more water than normal before, during and after vigorous activities (at least 15 minutes before, and take fluid breaks at least every 15 minutes);
- Exercise indoors where possible;
- Drink more water than normal if one is exposed to heat for long periods (greater than two hours);
- Avoid the sun during the middle of the day, such as by limiting, as much as possible, outdoor activities to mornings and evenings; and seeking out shade when outdoors; and
- Wear light-weight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothes made of breathable fabrics.
The public is also advised to avoid crowded locations and ensure that their homes are well ventilated.