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Health Concerns Increase As North Texas Temps Rise

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Women sit near a fan in a common-room of a rest home. (credit: Johanna Leguerre/AFP/Getty Images)

NORTH TEXAS (CBSDFW.COM) – It’s crazy hot outside and as the week goes on the temperatures are expected to go higher and become more deadly.

While there has only been one heat-related death reported in Tarrant County the numbers are much higher in Dallas.

“Dallas County Health and Human Services reported nine heat-related deaths in Dallas County,” Zachary Thompson, director of Dallas County Health and Human Services, said Monday. “We’re real concerned going into this extreme heat conditions that we’re facing, so we’re asking Dallas County residents to take precautions, drink plenty of water, and check on your neighbors.”

Health departments across North Texas are concerned since forecasters are predicting this to be the hottest week of the year. “We haven’t seen this type of temperatures since 1998. We had 35 deaths in Dallas County in ’98,” said Thompson.

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Even though we’re warned constantly about keeping an eye on your health during intense heat, an estimated 6,000 people wind up in the emergency rooms from heatstroke. That’s according to a new study by the Centers for Disease Control that looked at non-fatal heat-related illnesses.

On Monday Tarrant County Public Heath reiterated the precautions that should be taken during the extreme heat.

Avoid overexposure
Anyone outside in high temperatures for prolonged periods is at risk of heat injury.

Avoid dehydration
Sweating is the body’s natural cooling mechanism, and too much sweating without enough fluid intake results in dehydration.

Watch for signs of heat illness
Symptoms include heavy sweating, muscle cramps, weakness, dizziness, nausea, weak but rapid pulse and headaches.

Maintain adequate ventilation / air conditioning
Some people turn off their air conditioning, do not run it long enough, or may not have access to fans or other devices that help circulate cool air. Unless people have a high tolerance for heat, this practice puts them at risk for heat injury.

Do not leave children or animals in parked vehicles
Children and animals left inside parked cars can be overcome by heat within minutes when outdoor temperatures are high.

None of the dead in Dallas County included children but Thompson says a couple of the cases might have been preventable. “They [heat victims] range from ages 40 to 90 years of age,” he said. “I think there might have been two cases where the had a a/c unit but they didn’t have it on because they couldn’t afford the electric bill.”

There are reports the state is holding onto millions of dollars set aside to help poor and elderly residents with their rising electric bills.

“I’m real concerned about that,” Thompson said sternly. “We should not be balancing the budget on the backs of low-income individuals and we definitely need those funds reinstated so we can assist low-income residents throughout Texas.”

Regardless of financial circumstance Thompson is urging everyone to run their air conditioning now, to stay alive and healthy, and seek out city, county, and state resources to help pay the bill later.

Sonia Singleton, with Community Action Partners, agrees. “The City of Fort Worth’s Parks & Community Service Department, through our Community Action Partners program, provides utility assistance,” she said. “We’re also able to replace heating and cooling appliances with Energy Star efficient appliances.

So far, needy Texans have received only $28 million of the $130 million intended to offset high electricity bills.

State lawmakers say they have no choice but to hold onto the money until they can find a way to eliminate the budget shortfall. The funds come from a utility fee paid for by more than six million households in both the North Texas and Houston areas.

Anyone needing help with their utility bill, getting a box fan or even an air conditioner is encouraged to call 211 to see if they qualify for assistance.

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