10:30am

Tue May 24, 2011
Science/Health

State Hopes to Cut Heat Stroke Deaths

FRANKFORT – Kentucky Department for Public Health Commissioner William Hacker, M.D., joined representatives from Safe Kids and other advocates at the Capitol Monday to unveil the elements of a national education and awareness campaign to help reduce child vehicular deaths caused by heat stroke. The event comes on the heels of a weekend tragedy in Louisville in which a 2-year-old died after being left in a hot car.

According to Safe Kids, two additional child vehicular deaths -in Texas and Louisiana - have already occurred in 2011. Last year, the worst year on record, 49 children in the U.S. died from heat stroke while unattended in vehicles. From 1998-2010, at least 494 deaths are known to have occurred nationally. In Kentucky, there have been 13 deaths attributed to vehicular hyperthermia during the same time period and one death every year since 2004.

“The tragedy in Louisville illustrates the continued need for awareness and action on this issue. We want our citizens to understand the dangers of extremely hot cars and not to leave children in vehicles,” Hacker said. “Not only is this an issue of caretaker neglect, but we must advocate against leaving children unattended in vehicles – particularly in warmer months when cars can heat up quickly – as a means of ensuring the child’s health and well-being.”

The Safe Kids USA network is composed of 600 coalitions and chapters around the country, including in Kentucky. The “Never Leave Your Child Alone in a Car” program will unite and mobilize a wide range of partners – police and fire, hospitals, government agencies, child care centers, businesses and others – to share with parents and other caregivers prevention messages to address the dangers to children in vehicles. The program will include an advertising campaign of billboards, print ads, web banners and radio announcements as well as tip sheets. The materials will be available in both English and Spanish.

“The loss of a child due to hyperthermia is a horrific tragedy that, sadly, we are seeing every year in this state,” Dr. Susan Pollack, M.D., pediatrician and coordinator for Kentucky’s State Safe Kids Coalition, said. “We are working to raise awareness of the fact that children should never be left unattended in a vehicle. Parents and caregivers need to take steps to ensure that children cannot gain entrance to vehicles on their own by locking their cars and teaching children never to play in vehicles. It’s also important to realize that more than half the deaths occur when everyday working people have a change in morning routine, so the prevention tips that follow are important to put in place. If your child is missing, checking the vehicle first may save a life.”

Several measures are recommended to prevent these types of deaths from occurring. As part of the national campaign, Safe Kids is recommending:

-Create reminders. More than half of child heat stroke deaths occur because parents and caregivers become distracted and exit their vehicle without their child. To help prevent these tragedies parents can:

− Place a cell phone, PDA, purse, briefcase, gym bag or something that is needed at your next stop on the floor in front of a child in a backseat. This will help you see your child when you open the rear door and reach for your belongings.

− Set the alarm on your cell phone as a reminder to you to drop your child off at day care.

− Set your computer calendar program to ask, “Did you drop off at day care today?” Establish a plan with your day care that if your child fails to arrive within an agreed upon time, you will be called. Be especially mindful of your child if you change your routine for day care.

-Don’t underestimate the risk. The inside of vehicles can quickly heat up, even on relatively cool days, so you should never leave your child alone in a car. Don’t underestimate the risks and leave them even “just for a minute.”

-Lock cars and trucks. Thirty percent of the recorded heat stroke deaths in the U.S. occur because a child was playing in an unattended vehicle. These deaths can be prevented by simply locking the vehicle doors to help assure that kids don’t enter the vehicles and become trapped.

Immediately dial 911 if you see an unattended child in a car. EMS professionals are trained to determine if a child is in trouble. The body temperature of children rises three to five times faster than adults. As a result, children are much more vulnerable to heat stroke. Check vehicles and trunks first if a child is missing.

For more information on preventing child heat stroke deaths, please visit www.ggweather.com/heat and www.safekids.org/nlyca.