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Unexpected finding: People die from heat year-round in Florida; experts offer tips 

Floridians and visitors to the Sunshine State bake during the summer. Daytime temperatures often soar well into the 90s, and the heat index hovers over 100.

Heat can be so oppressive it causes death, and a new University of Florida report shows 215 people died from heat-related causes in the last 10 years. But heat-related deaths happen through the year, which surprised UF researchers who wrote the report.

A heat-related death is defined as one in which exposure to high ambient temperature either caused the death or significantly contributed to it. You can help prevent unhealthy conditions caused by heat by following some simple tips, offered by UF/IFAS researchers, as part of this new UF/IFAS Extension document.

Serap Gorucu, a UF/IFAS assistant professor of agricultural and biological engineering, helped write the new UF/IFAS report, in which she and her colleagues analyzed data from Florida Vital Statistics.

“Natural heat exposure is a continuing public health concern,” Gorucu said, adding, “The most surprising finding for me was the distribution of the number of deaths. We saw heat-related deaths year-round. That’s a bit surprising because when you think about heat, I assume that all heat-related deaths are occurring in summer months.”

Of the 215 people who died from heat-related reasons, the highest number of fatalities occurred in June, followed by July and August. Gorucu also found that many of the fatalities from November through March include children who were left in a vehicle.

The other victims from November through March were in an enclosed place – a vehicle or a house. Other victims were in a hot vehicle or hot enclosed place while intoxicated.

Gorucu thinks the public might be most surprised by the number of children and people 65 and older who are at risk of heat-related deaths. Some 46 children died from heat — 33 of them were less than 5 years old — while 58 people, aged 65 and older, also died.

Of all the heat-related deaths in Florida form 2010 to 2020, 153 (71%) were males; 62 (29%) were females. Several studies show similar data on gender differences in heat-related deaths, Gorucu said.

Gorucu and her co-authors wrote the new report to educate the public — especially children and older adults, athletes and outdoor workers — about how to stay safe in the heat. Those outdoor workers include farmers, construction laborers, landscaping workers, firefighters, law enforcement, forestry workers and more.

Scientists project increases in heat-related mortality in the future due partly to climate change. In the United States, an average of 702 people died from exposure to natural extreme heat annually from 2004 to 2018.

Gorucu and her colleagues list some preventive measures to lessen your chances of heat-related illness:

  • Drink plenty of water, seek shade and rest.
  • Do not leave children in vehicles.
  • Schedule but limit outdoor activities.
  • Avoid alcohol and/or drugs.

Click here for more information on how Florida agriculture workers can deal with heat-related illnesses. Because insufficient water leads to many heat-related illnesses, find out more here about how to keep yourself hydrated, including some myths on the topic.

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The mission of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) is to develop knowledge relevant to agricultural, human and natural resources and to make that knowledge available to sustain and enhance the quality of human life. With more than a dozen research facilities, 67 county Extension offices, and award-winning students and faculty in the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, UF/IFAS brings science-based solutions to the state’s agricultural and natural resources industries, and all Florida residents.

ifas.ufl.edu  @UF_IFAS