How to survive an extreme heatwave
Five tips for staying safe – and cool – during Victoria's swelter season.
As Victoria faces a long hot summer, authorities are warning that heatwaves kill more people than any other natural disaster. In February 2009, the heatwave that swept Victoria, pushing temperatures to a record 45.7 degrees in Melbourne and 48.8 degrees in the southern Mallee, claimed 374 lives – more than twice the number who died in the Black Saturday bushfires.
Victoria’s chief health officer Dr Brett Sutton says extreme, prolonged heat is a killer and those most at risk are the elderly, the very young, pregnant women and people with medical conditions such as heart problems.
“The emergency services are aware that heat kills, and it puts significant pressure on health services, so preventing it [heat-related health issues] is the key,” he says.
“When you’re sweating your core temperature has already increased,” he says. He advises people to minimise risk by keeping up fluids, seeking out air-conditioned places and staying indoors in the hottest part of the day.
Brett advises people to turn on the air-conditioner or fan early in the day, take a cool shower, wear lightweight and light-coloured loose clothes and spray yourself with cool water. People who don’t have air-conditioning or fans should plan ahead and go to air-conditioned facilities such as a shopping centre, library or cinema. (More: Prepare your home for summer.)
He recommends cancelling any non-urgent appointments during a heatwave and to avoid going out during the hottest part of the day.
People should also check on neighbours and friends who are at risk and if possible take them to a place with air-conditioning, he says.
Heatwaves are infamously known as the silent and invisible killers of silent and invisible people, according to the Red Cross’s state manager of emergency services Kate Siebert.
Red Cross will reach out to vulnerable Victorians this summer who may not have family, friends or others to check on them during days of extreme heat.