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Increase in child deaths from hot cars

Saturday, June 26th, 2010



The Delaware Valley enters another stretch of 90-degree days, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is urging parents not to leave their children in cars alone – not for even a moment. WHYY’s health and science reporter Kerry Grens has more.

Eighteen children have died this year from heat illness after being left in cars — whether intentionally, or out of forgetfulness. That number is higher than in previous years, and the typical spike in these tragedies usually occurs in July.

Even just a few minutes in a car on a comfortable day can hurt a child.

Mistry: It doesn’t take very long. In a car the temperature can rise up to 20 degrees in 10 minutes if the windows are closed.

Rakesh Mistry is an emergency department physician at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

Mistry: I think parents need to understand that there’s never ever a time when you can leave a child unattended in the car.

Evan Weiner, a physician in the emergency department at Saint Christopher’s hospital, says cracking the windows probably makes little difference.

Weiner: Children have poorer coping mechanisms in terms of their physiology than adults do. They have fewer sweat glands than adults do and they have a higher body surface area, so they absorb heat faster than an adult absorbs heat and they dissipate it worse.

Officials ask people to lock car doors once the car is empty, because some deaths are due to children climbing inside to play and getting trapped. Pets are also at risk of heat illness from short periods in a car alone.


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