Heat exhaustion a concern this summer

Are you aware that most Northwesterners don’t know what heat exhaustion is?

Kitsap County Commissioner Christine Rolfes asked that of Kitsap Public Health District experts at their recent meeting.

She said if people are feeling tired and their eyes are itchy they might think it’s allergies.

Emergency Preparedness program manager Brian Nielson shared that the KPHD is trying to educate the public about that and other issues related to heat and wildfire. He said if you don’t normally have allergies, determine what is causing those symptoms. “Determine what it is, and get out of it.”

Nielson and Nathan Anderson, KPHD public health educator, talked to the board about extreme heat and wildfires. While those had been expected to be a major problem this summer, more recent weather predictions show a more normalsummer. But that doesn’t mean the risk is gone, they said.

Nielson explained that recent information shows that lower levels of particulates caused by wildfire have a “much greater impact on human health.” Even though you “may not see it, it’s still there,” he said, adding very small levels are hard on people with things like asthma.

Board member Drayton Jackson said he worries about people who work outside on such days. “They need to take a break from the heat,” he said, adding it doesn’t make sense to break outside in the elements. Nielson said KPHD is working on “how can we help to remove those obstacles.”

Board member Greg Wheeler, Bremerton’s mayor, asked what it takes for cooling shelters to be activated as some rely on volunteers. Nielson said many of those shelters have staff already on hand, such as at the YMCA and library.

Board member Ashley Mathews, deputy mayor of Bainbridge Island, asked if any thought has been given to cooling shelters for pets, as it’s dangerous for them also. She owns horses and said, “It’s not healthy for them to exercise at all” when there is heat or smoke. “We are looking for places to expand to pets,” Nielson said.

He also said KPHD is looking for places where people already want to go, as it gives them something to do instead of just sitting around. She gave the YMCA as an example, but she mentioned movie theaters as a possibility.

Rolfes mentioned a memory of a heat wave when her children were young. “We went to the mall for seven hours. They thought that was the best thing ever.”

Anderson said KPHD has fact sheets on steps people can take to protect their health in exposed to heat and smoke. They also have information on air quality risks on their website, as does Kitsap Emergency Management. He said KPHD will provide personal protective equipment like N95 masks and portable air cleaners for sites that deal with the most vulnerable where HVAC is unavailable. Go to prepare@kitsappublichealth.org to make a request.

Their slide show presentation shows that extreme heat is when it’s 90 degrees in temperature and humidity for two days or longer. It can lead to heat stroke, and also exacerbate chronic health conditions such as diabetes, and cardiac and respiratory conditions. It can also increase or decrease the effectiveness of medications people take, such as for hypertension or mental health.

In general, Nielson said wildfire worsens existing health problems. It can cause irritation to eyes, nose and throat; fatigue, headaches and coughing; and cause mental health and psychological stress. Speaking of mental health, the slide show says that also can worsen during such periods as people isolate themselves by staying indoors out of the heat and smoke, but away from others, causing psychological stress.

Burning ban

In related news, the Kitsap fire marshal, in conjunction with the county’s Fire Chiefs’ Association, announced that they will impose a Phase I Outdoor Burning Ban at 8 a.m. July 6 as local fire danger is projected to increase dramatically.

Officials are imposing the ban in an effort to limit the most common cause of wildfires – outdoor burning – and urge the public to exercise extreme caution with all ignition sources.

Under a Phase I Outdoor Burning Ban, outdoor burning permits are temporarily suspended and no outdoor burning is allowed except for cooking fires in contained barbecue units and recreational fires. A “recreational” fire is: built in a designated fire pit space; no larger than 3 feet in diameter; containing seasoned firewood or charcoal briquettes only; located in a space clear of vegetation and at least 25 feet from buildings, fences, or anything that might burn; and attended at all times by an alert adult with immediate access to a shovel and a water source

The ban will remain in place until significant and sustained rainfall improves conditions.

Health officer’s report

Dr. Gib Morrow, the KPHD’s health officer, said the surgeon general recently announced a public health crisis concerning firearm violence, adding over 50% of Americans have been impacted by gun violence. The surgeon general recommends increased investment in research, education on prevention strategies and mental health support.

He also said there has been a slight upward tick in COVID. He said a vaccination already has been approved for anyone 6 months and older. He said protect the most vulnerable, wear a mask and avoid others when ill.

He said KPHD is involved in many educational programs. This fall it will co-host an event on mental health with a focus on social isolation. This month is will dive into healthcare access as part of the county’s health improvement process.

Recently, KPHD was involved in a symposium with local providers on tuberculosis. The goal is to report it in a timely fashion to get it contained before it spreads. It also was involved in logistics training involving the bird flu. He said while it has not been much of a threat to people it has been for poultry, wild birds and more recently dairy.

Morrow said KPHD also was involved with the Navy on training to prepare for “the unlikely event there is a radiation (mishap) in this area.”

The meeting was before the 4th of July, but he said, “It’s best to leave fireworks to the professionals” because the holiday is always one of the busiest days of the year for emergency rooms at hospitals.