Health professionals are urging the public, young and old, to be extra careful this summer, given so many of us underestimate the dangers of heatwaves.
Heat expert Liz Hanna said each year, heatwaves kill many Australians – in fact, heatwaves kill more people than any other disaster annually.
She said that while we have accepted our summers are hot, we are underestimating the health risks associated with severe heat.
“Our heat tolerance decays over winter, so the early hot spells are especially hazardous,” Dr Hanna said.
“And when we are off colour, our heat tolerance plummets.”
Dr Hanna said people now understand the elderly and young children are at risk, but they fail to realise that we are all vulnerable to heat.
“We know that people don’t drink enough, and our new research shows workers significantly overestimate their capacity to keep working in the heat, meaning they’re not as cautious as they need to be.
“This is where the real danger lies.”
Dr Hanna says the situation is only likely to become worse as the climate keeps changing.
The UN’s World Meteorological Organisation predicts 2015 will be the world’s hottest year on record, due to a strong El Nino season and global warming.
Climate Council research has found hot days are happening more often while heatwaves are becoming hotter, longer and more frequent.
“We can limit the number of deaths from heatwaves if people and authorities prepare, and recognise that heat kills even the young and fit,” Dr Hanna said.
Victorian paramedic Ward Young says his workload skyrockets during a heatwave.
“Extreme heat puts a lot of pressure on our resources and also on paramedics themselves, as we are rushing from job to job,” he said.
“As individuals we can also take action by staying out of the heat, staying hydrated and looking out for those who are elderly or vulnerable.”
Pip Carew from the Victorian branch of the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation says people living with chronic disease ,pregnant women, nursing mums and anyone taking mental illness medication are among those who need to take extra care.
“It’s important to never underestimate the Australian heat — especially when weather records continue to be broken,” she said.