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Hot and Bothered

If you’ve ever spent time in the country’s colder regions, you know all about the “wind-chill factor.” More than telling the temperature, that figure tells how cold it feels by adding wind speed. Determined not to allow winter to out-classify summer, the National Weather Service has begun calculating the “ultraviolet index,” and the “heat index,” sometimes called the “agony index.”

The “heat index,” begun in 1984, reflects how the combination of temperature and humidity feels. For example, with an air temperature of 100 degrees Fahrenheit and a relative humidity of 60%, the National Weather Service determined that it feels like 130 degrees Fahrenheit.

According to Frank Lepore, National Weather Service spokesman, about 20,000 people nationwide have died as a result of heat-related injuries over the past 50 years. What’s more, 700,000 to 1 million people each year are diagnosed with skin cancer--three-quarters of which are UV related. The UV index is designed to measure ultraviolet light levels.

“All of these are an attempt to put this very technical stuff into useful terms people can understand,” Lepore said, “to make the public understand that there is an environmentally-related health hazard.”

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UV Index

The “ultraviolet index,” begun in June, is still in the experimental phase. It measures the amount of time it would take for a fair-skinned person to get sunburned during the hottest part of the day. UV Level: What it signifies 0-2: Minimal exposure, when it takes more than 30 minutes to burn. 3-4: Low UVI, when it takes 15-90 minutes to burn. 5-6: Moderate UVI, when it takes 10-60 minutes to burn. 7-9: High UVI, 7-9, when it takes 7 to 35 minutes to burn. 10-plus: Very high, when a sensitive-skinned person could burn in fewer than five minutes.

Heat-related Injuries

There are several signs that the heat has gotten to your body. “No one in their right mind is going to go out there and jog if we’re having a 110-degree heat wave,” said Manuel Rivas, a spokesman for the Los Angeles chapter of the American Red Cross. “But we tell people just in case, to catch those people who don’t have common sense.”

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* Heat cramps: Often in the legs or abdomen, can signal the early stages of more serious heat-related injuries. Resting in a cool area, drinking cold fluids and massaging the cramped area are often enough to quell the problem.

* Heat exhaustion: Symptoms are headaches, nausea, dizziness, weakness, fatigue, clamminess and normal or below normal body temperatures. Treatment is the same is for heat cramps and needs to be handled promptly. If allowed to progress, heat exhaustion can lead to mild shock or heat stroke.

* Heat stroke: Among the most serious heat-related medical emergencies, developed when symptoms of heat exhaustion go untreated. The body, overwhelmed by heat, begins to stop functioning. If not treated immediately, heat stroke can be fatal. Symptoms include a high body temperature; red, dry skin; progressive loss of consciousness; rapid, weak pulse, rapid, shallow breathing; and vomiting.

Treatment includes cooling the body with ice packs on wrists, ankles, armpits and neck; drinking four ounces of water every 15 minutes and minimizing shock. If a victim refuses water, vomits or is unconscious, seek immediate medical attention.

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Summer Heat Tips

The Red Cross offers the following tips to coping the effects of summer heat:

* Slow down and avoid strenuous outdoor activities

* Stay indoors as much as possible

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* Wear lightweight, light-colored clothing

* Drink plenty of water

* Eat small meals throughout the day

* Avoid foods high in protein, which increases metabolic heat

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* Avoid alcoholic and caffeinated beverages

Heat and Pets

And don’t forget dogs and cats on those sweltering, summer days.

“People need to realize that pets suffer from the heat too, it’s not just us,” said Madeline Bernstein, the executive director of the Los Angeles Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. “The biggest problem we have this time of year is that pets get left in cars with the windows cracked a tad. It’s usually fatal.”

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If a dog begins to breathe rapidly, has difficulty walking or otherwise exhibits signs of disorientation, it may be suffering heat stroke. In that case, the animal should be cooled down with lukewarm water (cold can be too shocking) and then taken to a veterinarian.

Shaving a pet’s fur in hopes of keeping it cool is not necessarily a good idea. The fur insulates against heat just as it does against cold, Bernstein said.

But if it’s already too late, Bernstein suggests being extra careful not to leave the animal in the sun; animals, like humans, are susceptible to sunburn if they are stripped of their protection.

The Agony Index

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High air temperature coupled with high humidity can make it feel hotter than it really is.

How Hot It Seems

Air Temperature (F) Relative Humidity (%) 0 5 10 15 20 25 30 35 40 45 50 125 111 116 123 131 141 120 107 111 115 123 130 139 148 115 103 107 111 115 120 127 135 143 151 110 99 102 105 108 112 117 123 130 137 143 150 105 95 97 100 102 105 109 113 118 123 129 135 100 91 93 95 97 99 101 104 107 110 115 120 95 87 88 90 91 93 94 96 98 101 104 107 90 83 84 85 86 87 88 90 91 93 95 98 85 78 79 80 81 82 83 84 85 86 87 88 80 73 74 75 76 77 77 78 79 79 80 81 75 69 69 70 71 72 72 73 73 74 74 75 70 64 65 65 65 66 66 67 67 68 68 69

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Air Temperature (F) Relative Humidity (%) 55 60 65 70 75 80 85 90 95 100 105 142 149 100 125 132 138 144 95 110 114 119 124 130 135 90 98 100 102 105 109 113 117 122 85 89 90 91 93 95 97 99 102 105 108 80 81 82 83 85 86 86 87 88 89 91 75 75 76 76 77 77 78 78 79 79 80 70 69 70 70 70 70 71 71 71 71 72

Sources: National Weather Service; Red Cross; Los Angeles Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals

Research by ABIGAIL GOLDMAN / Los Angeles Times


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