Philadelphia health experts urge caution amid extreme heat

Families enjoy the sprinkler park at Ferko Playground

Families enjoy the sprinkler park at Ferko Playground in the Juniata Park section of Philadelphia during a summer heat wave on July 20, 2022. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Temperatures in the Philadelphia region are expected to remain in the 90s for the next several days, including a high of 98 degrees on Thursday.

The city Department of Public Health advises people to use air conditioning if able, stay hydrated, and avoid being outside during the sun’s peak hours to reduce the risk of heat-related illness.

Dr. Brad Bendesky, chairman of emergency medicine at Mercy Fitzgerald Hospital, says people with heart or kidney issues are extremely vulnerable during periods of high temps. He recommends people with pre-existing conditions keep up with their medication to avoid heat-related illnesses.

“Patients who are on water pills or blood pressure pills or have cardiomyopathies or heart disease at all, have to be especially careful in the heat and heat situations,” Bendesky said.

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“They may not feel that they are at risk because they’re not exerting themselves, but the amount of stress that’s put on the body from extreme heat,” said Bendesky. “Even when you’re sedentary, in a house, your core temperature can rise pretty quickly if your environment is going to be as hot as it’s going to be over the next few days.”

Dr. Robert McNamara, chair of emergency medicine at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University and chief medical officer of Temple Faculty Physicians, says it’s common to see people with underlying conditions deteriorate during extreme weather.

“We see the periodic very high temperature, which can be a tragedy,” McNamara said. “But we really see more an exacerbation of underlying illness. That’s sort of the general effect that we try to watch out for. The actual heat emergencies themselves, they’re relatively uncommon that you have people that come in with [a] 109-, 110-degree temperature.”

Bendesky says young, healthy people can also be at risk if they’re not careful.

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“Much of what we also see in the emergency department are young people working outside, exercising outside, who underestimate the risk,” Bendesky said. “Something as simple as just a little bit of heat exhaustion where they have overwhelmed their body’s ability to cool in their environment.”

The National Weather Service has issued a Heat Advisory for certain portions of the Philadelphia region from Thursday into Friday evening. The city has not yet issued a Heat Health Emergency, but the Office of Emergency Management says it is monitoring conditions closely.

From the year 2000 through the present day, average July temperatures in Philadelphia fall just shy of 80 degrees. The average temperature recorded last month was nearly identical to what was seen in July 2011. Philadelphia dealt with multiple 100-degree days that year and 35 people died due to heat-related illnesses.

A heat wave that hit Philly in July resulted in at least five heat-related deaths.

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