Travellers beware: Australia’s baking south-east is hot and about to get even hotter.
The Bureau of Meteorology has forecast extreme heatwave conditions for southern NSW, South Australia, Victoria, and Tasmania this week, with temperatures tipped to exceed 40°C. To help residents and travellers, the bureau this week launched an early warning system for heatwaves. Details, link below.
Queensland and Western Australia have already experienced recent heatwaves, coming at the tail end of Australia’s hottest year on record.
And, as we approach mid-summer, periods of dangerously high temperatures are likely to continue. In fact, experts say record temperatures indicate heatwaves are now more common, even hotter than in the past, and longer lasting.
Travelvax Australia advises people travelling by road in cars or campervans, or towing caravans, to avoid complacency and take extra precautions to minimise the potential impact of extreme heat.
Why heatwaves are so dangerous
“Heat causes the human cardiovascular system to work much harder for a sustained period,” Travelvax’s Medical Director, Dr Eddy Bajrovic, said.
“For some people, this extra strain can lead to a heart attack or a stroke. Those with pre-existing heart and lung disease are at much greater risk, as are the very young and the elderly.”
People travelling long distances by road in remote areas or camping off the beaten track in a heatwave-affected region need to guard against heat exhaustion and heat stroke – the two main dangers when we become dehydrated and our bodies overheat.
“A breakdown in a remote area with no access to air conditioning and little shade can rapidly lead to a life-threatening situation, especially if you find yourself low on water,” Dr Bajrovic said.
“Of course, in extremely hot, dry conditions, there’s also the added threat of bushfires.”
10 tips to beat the heat
1 – Drink fluids frequently: Most heat-related problems are the result of dehydration. It’s important to drink plenty of fluids – even before you feel thirsty. (You begin to feel thirsty when approximately 1 litre dehydrated.) As a rule of thumb, when it’s very hot, drink twice the amount of water you think you need.
2 – Sweating is cool: Perspiration is the main way your body cools down and maintains a body temperature of about 37°C so your brain and other vital organs function normally. Drinking non-alcoholic fluids is essential to maintain hydration and allow your body to perspire. Passing clear or light yellow urine several times a day is the best indicator of adequate hydration.
3 – Don’t leave home without water: Always carry water with you – especially in a hot vehicle – and maintain a constant intake. Drink up to 1 litre an hour if exercising or walking.
4 – Maintain your intake: An adult needs to drink about 3 litres of fluid a day in a hot climate or 5 litres or more if exercising or undertaking a strenuous physical activity. Children should be encouraged to sip water (not soft drinks) frequently to maintain adequate hydration. (Don’t forget your pets: Animals can drink up to double their normal intake during hot weather and need plenty of cool, clean water.)
5 – Limit sports drinks: Sports drinks replace sodium, chloride and other elements lost through perspiration and are okay in moderation for older children and adults – especially after strenuous activity. However, they can actually slow water absorption and should be consumed along with water – not instead of it. For young kids, dilute sports drinks with four parts water.
6 – Seek shade: As mentioned, perspiration is the body’s main mechanism for getting rid of excess heat. But, as humidity rises, perspiration becomes less effective and your body retains more heat. Look for a cool (ideally air-conditioned) place to spend the hottest hours of the day. Shade and rest are especially important for young children: little bodies produce more body heat but perspire less efficiently than older kids and adults.
7 – Dress for the heat: Cotton clothing is a smart choice because it ‘breathes’ better than most synthetic materials and absorbs perspiration, helping to cool your body. When it comes to dressing for heatwave conditions opt for lightweight, light-coloured, loose-fitting clothes.
8 – Take time to adjust: It can take time to adjust to the higher temperatures in a hot, humid region – especially for kids and people who are overweight. Take it easy for a day or two until all members of the family are ready to tackle the holiday sightseeing schedule. Twenty minutes of light to moderate exercise such as walking in the cooler part of the day helps you to acclimatise, and allows you to gradually increase the length of time and intensity of exercise.
9 – Watch for early signs of stress: During a heatwave, heat can cause a range of symptoms – muscle cramps, tiredness, feeling faint and flushed, nausea, vomiting, and even an altered mental state. Once again, kids are more susceptible. In toddlers not yet speaking, irritability can be an early sign of heat stress. The first step is to lower the person’s temperature as quickly as possible by getting them to a cool space, such as an air-conditioned car. (See below for more on treatment).
10 – Know what to do in an emergency: There are two stages to heat stress - heat exhaustion and heat stroke. The key to treating heat exhaustion is rehydration and rest. Start with sips of cool to cold water and gradually increase intake to 250mls every 15 minutes. Between 2 and 3 litres of fluid over 2-3 hours may be required to complete the rehydration process. After heat exhaustion comes heat stroke. The signs are changes in the person’s level of consciousness, irritability, hallucinations, and unsteadiness when walking.
WARNING: Heat stroke is a medical emergency. A person with heat stroke symptoms should be taken to the nearest doctor or hospital emergency department without delay. Preferably call an ambulance.
Tragically, the stories of parents accidentally leaving a young child or a pet in the car are all too familiar. Yet every summer children and pets die or are permanently injured. Remember a car can heat up from 27°C to 49°C in just 15 minutes!
Check heatwave map before leaving home
This week the weather bureau launched a new pilot heatwave forecast service that will benefit domestic travellers. Using Numerical Weather Prediction model data, it identifies areas of Australia affected by heatwaves, including those areas where conditions are predicted to range from ‘severe’ to ‘extreme’.
“What is unusual about this current heatwave event is that when high maximum temperatures and above-average minimum temperatures are sustained over a number of days, there is a build-up of ‘excess’ heat,” Alasdair Hainsworth, the bureau’s Assistant Director for Weather Services, explained.
“When average conditions are exceeded over a period of time by continuously high night-time and day-time temperatures, heat stress becomes a critical factor.”
Australia recorded its hottest calendar year on record in 2013, as confirmed last Friday with the release of the Annual Climate Statement, 2013.
The Australian Science Media Centre this week asked a group of Australian climate and health experts to explain the background and impact of heatwaves, and to advise people living in or visiting the affected areas on precautions. Read their expert comments and advice.
For more advice about climate, possible vaccinations and other travel health-related issues for your next trip, call Travelvax Australia’s advisory service on 1300 360 164 (toll-free from landlines). You can also book a pre-travel medical appointment at one of our 44 clinics around Australia.