NEW PORT RICHEY — Are you prepared for Florida's hot season and the health hazards that come with it this summer?
If you didn't know or couldn't already tell, it begins in Key West in late March and arrives in north Florida by early June. So summer has a firm grip on the West Pasco area until sometime in September.
The human body's process of cooling itself is much more efficient in drier climates where the sweat evaporates quicker, whereas higher humidity means less evaporation and less cooling.
Heat cramps, exhaustion and heatstroke are concerns. Residents should stay informed about summer conditions. The Mayo Clinic describes all three as conditions that result from the body overheating due to exposure to high temperatures.
Heatstroke is the most serious of the three and is characterized by a headache, dizziness or lightheadedness, nausea, skin that feels cool and moist and muscle cramps.
A possible complication of heatstroke is shock, which is a condition caused by a sudden loss of blood flow. If the symptoms of heatstroke aren't acted upon quickly enough, people can die or experience damage to the brain or other vital organs.
In response to heatstroke, these organs swell, and if the body temperature isn't cooled quickly enough, the damage from this swelling could be permanent.
For some that might mean it's time to prepare for an increase in electric bills due to extra pressure on home air conditioners to work to combat the heat.
For others living in Pasco the consequences are even less ideal. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, out of nearly 500,000 people residing in Pasco in 2012, homeless people accounted for 4,502 of the Pasco population. That's an increase from the previous year.
Most vulnerable groups include the homeless, elderly, children, those with disabilities, migrants, tourists, those who don't speak English well, inmates, those who live in certain types of housing and who are socio-economically disadvantaged.
Officials at the Florida Department of Health in Pasco County were recently asked if it had a preparatory or emergency response plan in place for potentially life threatening heat waves or high heat days.
“In response to that concern I would say that Pasco County's Emergency Operations team is prepared to protect the interests of our community at all times,” Health Education Program Manager Deanna Krautner stated. “The steps we take in order to manage an incident of this type include mobilizing the resources needed to assist the community.”
Krautner added, “Our plans recognize the unique needs of each of those population segments and the emergency management team works routinely at addressing the unique challenges that these folk face during times of emergency.”
Pasco Sherriff's Office Public Information Officer Melanie Snow stated: “Our sheriff's office typically doesn't handle that. We share information about the various shelters that are available with the public. We also offer assistance if the county requires it.”
“I don't want to offend anybody but if we don't get it done it doesn't get done,” said the Rev. Jim Campbell, the chairman of the board for the Coalition for the Homeless of Pasco County and president of the ROPE/COR Center.
Open Monday, Wednesday and Friday, the ROPE/COR Center, 14121 Water Tower Drive, Hudson, takes in men and women that are homeless.
“There's so much more that I'd like to be able to do to help, but we get very little funding from anybody and even when we do sometimes it seems as though I crossed the wrong T's and dotted the wrong I's,” Campbell said.
In order to prevent heatstroke and other heat related conditions during hot weather the Mayo Clinic has provided a list of precautions:
* Wear loose-fitting, lightweight, light-colored clothing.
* Drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated. Avoid drinks with alcohol to rehydrate.
* Take extra precautions with certain medications that can make people more susceptible to heat exhaustion.
* Avoid hot spots. On a hot day, the temperature in your parked car can rise 20 degrees Fahrenheit (about 6.7 degrees Celsius) in just 10 minutes. Let your car cool off before you drive it and never leave children or anyone else in a parked car in hot weather for any period of time.
* Avoid sunburn. Use a wide-brimmed hat, umbrella or sunscreen on exposed skin.
* Seek a cooler place. Fans alone aren't adequate to counter high heat and humidity. So if your home doesn't have an air conditioner, consider spending time at a library or shopping mall. At the least, find a well-shaded spot.