During 2011, Houston faced a heat wave that became known as the hottest summer ever recorded. In an article from January 30th, BioNews Texas reported on how the high temperatures had the highest impact on the elderly in Houston. Now, another press release on the study indicates that the heat wave also caused an increase of 278 daily emergency department visits, according to research conducted at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth).
The study entitled “Impact of the 2011 heat wave on mortality and emergency department visits in Houston, Texas” was conducted by UTHealth researchers Kai Zhang, Tsun-Hsuan Chen and Charles E Begley, and recently published in the Environmental Health journal. The research revealed that due to the summer heat wave, there was an increased 3.6% excess risk in emergency department visits, despite the fact there was no significant impact on mortality.
“The 2011 heat wave led to significantly more emergency department visits than would be typical of that period; however, mortality rates did not change much,” explained Kai Zhang, Ph.D., who is an assistant professor in the Department of Epidemiology, Human Genetics & Environmental Sciences at UTHealth School of Public Health.
During August 2011, there were 30 days of temperatures exceeding 100 degrees in Houston, and according to the study, emergency department admissions among patients older than 65 years increased 8.9%. The results were consistent with previous studies that already demonstrated the elderly are more affected by excess heat, and that there are higher mortality rates and emergency department visits due to heat waves.
“It could be that the mortality rate did not change much in Houston because 98 percent of residents had air conditioning and were acclimated to the hot weather,” said Dr. Zhang, while comparing the results found with the ones from Chicago, where there 692 deaths were registered due to the heat. “In Chicago, only 76 percent of residents had air conditioning, which may have been a factor for the number of heat wave-related deaths there,” he added.
“These findings could provide insights for local government agencies and communities to design better preparation to reduce adverse health effects of future heat waves,” said Charles Begley, Ph.D., who is professor in the Department of Management, Policy & Community Health at UTHealth School of Public Health, and co-authored the study that was financially supported by the UTHealth School of Public Health.