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Thursday, 6 August, 1998, 11:03 GMT 12:03 UK
Hot weather health warning
Woman in the sun
Hot weather is forecast for this weekend
As forecasters predict a late summer heatwave, new research warns of the dangers of hot weather.

According to a study in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, a 1995 heatwave was responsible for nine per cent more deaths across England and Wales than would normally be expected.

In London, the figure was even worse - 16% more deaths than usual.

The five-day heatwave happened in August of that year - the hottest since records began in 1659. Average temperatures peaked at 25C (77F) on the first of the month. The hottest place in Britain that day was Boxworth in Cambridgeshire, where the temperature soared to more than 35C (95F).

Women at risk

The study says the estimated 619 excess deaths occurred across all age groups, but the figures were almost twice as high in women and greatest in those aged 85 and over.

Air pollution is usually worse in hot weather
Deaths from respiratory disease and cerebrovascular disease - such as strokes - also showed a marked increase.

The authors of the study believe two thirds of the extra deaths could be attributed to air pollution, which is usually worse in hot weather.

"Air pollution levels at all sites rose during the heatwave," they write.

"Levels of ozone were increased particularly in rural and suburban areas, which accords with what is known about the gradual process of ozone formation from its precursor pollutants in drifting air."

The bigger death rate in London is put down to the generally higher day and night-time temperatures in the capital, caused by the "heat island effect" - the tendency of buildings and paved areas to trap and retain heat.

Urban populations

The authors also think socio-economic deprivation in London played a part - a recent study in America suggested that people in deprived backgrounds were more susceptible to the effects of high temperature.

The researchers conclude: "These results are of public health relevance, particularly because they indicate that large urban populations may be more susceptible to heatwaves (and accompanying air pollution) than the rest of the population.

"This may well have implications for the need to improve housing stock, to provide better protection for the elderly, frail and bedridden, and to issue timely weather alerts when extreme events are expected."

The UK Met Office has forecast a period of fine, settled weather over the next few days. Southern England is expected to enjoy the best of the heatwave with temperatures expected to reach around 86F (30C).

See also:

15 May 98 | UK
Britain on smog alert
31 Jul 98 | Health
Heat stroke warning
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