Health

Heatwave kills 36 people, most in Andhra Pradesh

Churu, which saw the temperatures soar beyond 50 degrees Celsius, has not registered even a single death

 
By Banjot Kaur
Last Updated: Thursday 13 June 2019
Heatwave kills 36 people, most in Andhra Pradesh. Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images Photo: Getty Images

Heatwave has killed 36 people in the country so far this year, said a National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) official, most of them in Andhra Pradesh.

The nation-wide toll last year was 25. “The state-wide figure is still being finalised. However, we can confirm that Andhra Pradesh has registered maximum deaths,” Anup Kumar Srivastava, consultant with NDMA, told Down To Earth.

Churu unscathed

The NDMA official added that Churu, where temperature crossed the 50 degrees Celsius mark, has not registered a single death due to the heat. On the other hand, eastern Rajasthan is witnessing many deaths owing to this phenomenon.

Srivastava explained that not just temperature but humidity too is at play. “If in a district in Andhra Pradesh, the temperature has crossed the 40 degrees Celsius mark and in places like Churu where the mercury has risen beyond 50°Celsius, the AP district would be more affected,” he said.

“This is because the humidity in AP would be 80-90 per cent that makes the overall comfortable index much more than a person in the state is used to experiencing. This will make people feel that they are experiencing temperatures above 70°Celsius,” he added.

The NDMA official further said this is true about most coastal states like Odisha, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. “In Churu, since the humidity is just around 10 to 15 per cent, people remain largely unimpacted,” said Srivastava.

DTE spoke to Churu’s Chief Medical and Health Officer Manoj Kumar Sharma and FH Gauri, head of the medicine department in Pandit Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Medical College there. Both of them confirmed that there have been no deaths due to heatwave in Churu.

“It is not the first time that the temperature has gone too high. People are used to experiencing such high temperatures here. That’s why they don’t take the government advisories to mitigate heatwave lightly,” said Gauri.

He added that their advisory is pretty simple as it asks people to remain hydrated, wear lose and cotton clothes, keep their heads covered while working under the sun and to not venture outside in daytime if it is not necessary. This is how they achieved the zero death figures despite heatwave, said Gauri.

Alarming conditions

What’s concerning is that heatwaves, which generally continue till July, have already killed 36 people when the entire last year saw 25 heatwave deaths.

When asked for a reason behind this, Srivastava said, “It’s because of climate change. Due to climate change, the number of Indian districts vulnerable to heatwave are continuously going up. So, we not only need to better our awareness efforts but people also have to take these advisories seriously.”

The number of heatwave deaths was 29 in 2017, which had reduced significantly from 2016, which saw 1,111 people die to due rising temperatures. “One of the most important ways that helps get the number of deaths down is increase in awareness level,” Srivastava said.

Guidelines prove helpful

The NDMA official lamented that election activity affected awareness drives in the last few months and this could have caused more deaths this year.

The NDMA guidelines give clear suggestions as to what to do if one is suffering from heat rash (skin diseases coupled with fever), heat cramps (painful spasm usually in leg and abdominal muscles), heat exhaustion (heavy sweating and weakness) and heat stroke (high body temperature).

In Delhi, which also reeling under severe heatwave, doctors say they are witnessing a spurt in patients affected by heat-related illnesses. “The number of patients is more than normal. We are advising them to remain hydrated enough, eat nutritious diet, avoid outside food, take ORS/electral, and if the problem persists, they should consult a doctor,” said Nakul Gupta, a doctor in Sir Ganga Ram Hospital.

Doctors also suggested that patients suffering from hypertension may witness constant variations in their blood pressure due to temperature despite medication. This happens due to poor hydration and a doctor must be consulted to revise the dosage if the problem persists.

The World Health Organization has also issued guidelines to mitigate these diseases. Here are those dos and don’ts:

  • Keep the body cool and hydrated
  • Take cool showers or baths. Alternatives include cold packs and wraps, towels, sponging, foot baths, etc.
  • Use light bed linen and sheets and no cushions to avoid heat accumulation.
  • Drink regularly, but avoid alcohol and too much caffeine and sugar.
  • Eat small meals and eat more often. Avoid foods that are high in protein.
  • Aim to keep your living space cool. Check the room temperature between 8 am and 10 am, at 1 pm and at night after 10 pm. Ideally, the room temperature should be kept below 32°C during the day and 24°C during the night. This is especially important for infants or people aged above 60 years or have chronic health conditions.
  • Keep medicines in conditions below 25°C or in the refrigerator (read the storage instructions on the packaging).
  • Seek medical advice if you are suffering from a chronic medical condition or taking multiple medications.

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