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Last Updated: Friday, 30 July, 2004, 00:11 GMT 01:11 UK
Heatwave survival advice launched
Bournemouth beach during the heatwave of 2003
The guidance advises people stay out of the heat
Guidance on how to cope in a heatwave has been issued by the government's health adviser as the country gears up for hot temperatures.

England's Chief Medical Officer Professor Sir Liam Donaldson sets out four levels of heatwave alert.

The plan also details how people can protect their own health.

Measures, such as staying out of the heat, could cut deaths said Sir Liam. Last year there was an estimated 2,000 "excess deaths" in August's heatwave.

Plan your day so you stay out of the heat
Avoid going out 11am-3pm - the hottest part of the day
If you go out, stay in shade, wear hat and light, loose clothes
Carry water
Take cool showers or baths - splash yourself with cold water, particularly face and back of your neck
Eat as normal. Eat more cold food - salads and fruit

In France, the total of "excess deaths" in August's heatwave was thought to be around 15,000.

The CMO said last year's excessive heat, together with predicted climate changes convinced him of the need for a national plan.

Certain groups, such as the elderly, the very young and people with chronic illnesses are particularly at risk during heatwaves.

There is a danger of becoming overheated and dehydrated, potentially leading to heat exhaustion or heat stroke - which can then cause irreversible damage to the body, including the brain, or even death.

Health experts say it takes just two consecutive days of heatwave temperatures to have a significant effect on health.

Identify at-risk

The four levels of alert will apply to the NHS and other public bodies.

Level 1 - Awareness - general vigilance during summer
Level 2 - Alert - triggered when heatwave temperatures are predicted in at least one region
Level 3 - Heatwave - triggered when threshold temperatures have been reached in at least one region
Level 4 - Emergency - where the heatwave is classed as severe and prolonged

Heatwave alerts will be triggered by a heat-monitoring system based on temperatures recorded by the Met Office which defines heatwave temperatures differently in each region - ranging from 32C in London to 28C in the north east.

Under level one, people would be issued with practical advice on how to keep cool.

Level four would be in used in an emergency where the severity or duration of the heatwave poses serious dangers to health.

Local social services and Primary Care Trusts will be asked to identify those most at risk so they can be assessed for extra care and support.

A leaflet "Heatwave - a guide to how protecting yourself from the effects of heat" will be distributed to locations including GP surgeries, pharmacies and post offices.

Sir Liam said: "Although severe heatwaves are uncommon in England, it is particularly important that vulnerable people including the elderly, babies and young children take the necessary precautions to avoid serious harm through heat exhaustion and heat stroke."

"In contrast to deaths associated with cold snaps in winter the risk in mortality follows very sharply, within one or two days of the temperature rising.

"This means that by the time a heat wave starts the window of opportunity for effective action is very short indeed. It is therefore crucial that we are properly prepared for this situation."

Good advice

Dr James Goodwin, head of research for Help the Aged, said: "Whilst we all enjoy warm weather, extreme events such as heatwaves can be very uncomfortable for older people and in some cases result in death.

"Climate change means that extreme events such as heatwaves are increasingly likely.

He said the plan offered good advice for older people and the carers but "good neighbours" could play a part in reducing the impact of hot weather.

Europe tackles freak weather risk
25 Jun 04  |  Science/Nature
2003 summer hottest in 500 years
05 Mar 04  |  Europe
French heat toll almost 15,000
25 Sep 03  |  Europe

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