May 30, 2019
Jennifer Miller, 608-266-1683
Elizabeth Goodsitt, 608-266-1683

Teens, Young Adults Visit Emergency Rooms More than Others for Heat-Related Illnesses, New Data Review Finds

Joint project between Minnesota and Wisconsin sheds new light on populations at risk

A new look at data from Minnesota and Wisconsin found that teens and adults 15 to 34 years old in both states are the most likely to visit the emergency department for heat-related illness.

This finding was somewhat surprising as the majority of public health alerts during heat waves focus on the very young and the very old since they are at higher risk for death and longer hospitalizations. This work highlights that teens and younger adults, particularly those involved in athletics or working outdoors, also need to take steps to prevent heat-related illnesses.

Epidemiologists from Minnesota and Wisconsin joined forces to look at heat-related illness, such as heat exhaustion, heat cramps, and heat stroke, from 2006-2015 in both states. There were 7,537 heat-related illness emergency department cases in Minnesota or 14.2 heat-related emergency department cases per every 100,000 people, and 8,445 cases or 14.9 cases per every 100,000 people in Wisconsin.

Other findings include the following:

  • Men are about twice as likely to visit the emergency department for heat-related illness as women.
  • Counties with a higher heat index generally had more cases of heat-related illness.
  • Counties in rural areas had heat-related illness rates significantly higher than counties in more metropolitan areas.

A summary of the methodology, findings and limitations, and future directions can be found on our website.

“Over the past few years, our agencies started noticing more and more cases of heat-related illness among younger, working-age people,” said Tess Konen, an epidemiologist and project lead from Minnesota Department of Health. “We were interested in knowing more about who is impacted by extreme heat in our states.”

Minnesota and Wisconsin share similar climates, populations, and patterns of heat-related illness. “Given our similarities, we knew our project would have the biggest impact if we combined our data and worked together to assess heat-related illness trends and patterns,” said Paul Creswell, an epidemiologist and project lead from Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

Public health professionals at both agencies will be using the results from this project to improve their heat-related outreach efforts. “During hot summer months, we are still concerned about the very young and very old. But what we learned from this project is that we can do better to reach other populations who may not be aware of their risk,” said Konen.

As we head into summer months, both agencies are reminding Minnesotans and Wisconsinites to take steps to stay safe during extreme heat:

  • Stay in air conditioning. When possible, stay in air conditioning on hot days. If you don’t have air conditioning, head to libraries, malls, and other public spaces to keep cool.
  • Check on loved ones. Extreme heat can affect anyone of any age, including youth and adults. Be sure to check on older friends and neighbors who live alone and don’t have air conditioning.
  • Avoid the hottest part of the day. If you have to be outside, stick to the cooler morning and evening hours. Wear light, loose clothing and take frequent, air conditioned breaks.
  • Beware of hot cars. Never leave a person or a pet in a parked car, even for a short time. On an 80 degree day, the temperature inside a car can reach 100 degrees in less than 10 minutes.
  • Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water on hot days. Avoid alcohol and hot, heavy meals.
  • Stay informed. Watch your local weather forecasts so you can plan outdoor activities safely. Pay attention to any extreme heat alerts.

If you start feeling overheated, weak, dizzy, nauseated, or have muscle cramps, you could be experiencing heat illness. Move to air conditioning, drink water, get under a fan, and put on cool washcloths. If your symptoms worsen or don’t improve, go to the emergency room.

For more information, visit the Wisconsin Department of Health Services heat safety webpage and review heat-related illness data in our County Environmental Health Profiles.