Children are vulnerable to heatstroke

Now America has struggled past the Polar Vortex and summer has arrived, the other side of the climate change phenomenon is upon us. Yes, it’s getting hot. In some parts, it’s getting really hot. So this is the right time to remind parents and caregivers that one of the leading causes of death among children is heatstroke. To understand the scale of the problem, here are a few facts:

• children overheat five times faster than adults;
• if a child is overheating, he or she does not sweat although the skin may become red and hot;
• the child can begin to act in a slightly unusual manner and become confused;
• if the temperature is not brought down, the child can be severely injured or die.

In 2013, forty-four children lost their lives when left unattended in a car. Unfortunately, hospitals are not required to count and report the number who are injured by heatstroke. So, on average, one child dies every ten days. That may not sound very many but, when it comes to avoidable deaths, surely even one death is too many. So far in 2014, there have been nineteen recorded deaths.

To be absolutely clear, parents or caregivers who leave children in cars are usually prosecuted for homicide. This is reckless or grossly negligent behavior from the parents and courts convict of manslaughter.

Here are some simple rules:

• do not leave any child alone in a vehicle;
• never allow your child to play in a vehicle unsupervised;
• a child dies when their body temperature reaches 107 degrees;
• heatstroke can occur in cloudy conditions;
• although the temperature outside is only 60 degrees, the temperature inside the vehicle can reach 110 degrees;
• the temperature inside a vehicle can rise 20 degrees in ten minutes;
• the fact the windows are open does not prevent heatstroke — it just slows down the heating process;
• so before you lock and leave your vehicle, always make sure you have not left a child behind.

What should you do if you see a child in a vehicle on a hot day?


You do not know how long the child has been there, so the first step is to knock on the window to see whether the child is responsive. If the child is responsive, call the emergency services and send anyone nearby to look for the parents or caregivers. If you are at a mall or some other central facility, find out whether the parents can be paged. If the child not responsive, this is the time for you to take action. Obviously the priority is opening the door. Unlocked doors are no challenge. If the doors are locked, break a window to open the door and remove the child from the vehicle. Then use water or other cool liquid to begin bringing down the child’s body temperature. There is no need for you to worry about legal consequences. Assuming this is an emergency, the Good Samaritan laws offer complete protection to those who are saving the young from the immediate threat of injury.

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