Between 1998 and 2010, 32 children in Tennessee died from heat-related causes, with 13 of those fatalities occurring in vehicles. Last month alone, three children died. As the searing heat of summer continues, the Tennessee Department of Health is reminding residents and visitors to increase their efforts to prevent deaths from heat stroke in cars, trucks and SUVs.
“A vehicle’s internal temperature can rise quickly to a dangerous level, so it’s important to never leave a child alone in a car,” said TDH Commissioner John J. Dreyzehner, MD, MPH. “Any of us can be distracted so we need to take some simple memory steps, like putting something we need when we leave our cars such as a briefcase or purse, beside our child to prevent a distraction from becoming a terrible tragedy.”
Heat stroke can occur when a person’s temperature exceeds 104 degrees F and his or her ability to handle heat is overwhelmed. The first symptoms include dizziness, disorientation and sluggishness, followed by loss of consciousness, hallucinations and rapid heartbeat. When the body’s core temperature reaches 107 degrees F, internal organs often stop functioning.
A study by the San Francisco State University Geoscience Department looked at how quickly heat can rise in a vehicle. To investigate heat build-up, researchers used a dark blue mid-size sedan with a grey interior, with the windows slightly cracked open and ambient temperatures between 72 and 96 degrees F. The temperature increase inside the car was 19 degrees in 10 minutes, 29 degrees in 20 minutes, 34 degrees in 30 minutes, 43 degrees in 60 minutes and between 45 and 50 degrees in two hours.
The Tennessee Department of Health offers these safety suggestions to prevent hyperthermia deaths:
- Never leave a child alone in a vehicle.
- If you see a child left unattended in a hot vehicle, call 9-1-1 immediately.
- Place a stuffed animal in the child safety seat. When you place your child in the seat, move the stuffed animal to the front seat with you. The stuffed toy will remind you about the child in the seat.
- Always lock your car to make sure children cannot get inside while it is unattended.
- If a child is missing, check swimming pools and bodies of water first, then nearby cars and trucks, including trunks or other spaces that appear to be locked.
- Place your briefcase, purse or keys beside the child safety seat, so you have to go to the seat before leaving the vehicle and entering a building.
- Tape a reminder note to your dashboard; the National Weather Service motto is excellent for this: “Beat the heat, check the back seat!”
“Parents may be overwhelmed or have other issues clouding the decision-making process,” said Michael Warren, MD, MPH, FAAP, director of TDH’s Division of Family Health and Wellness. “We all have a responsibility to help; if we see a baby in the backseat, a kind remark such as, ‘That sure is a pretty baby in the seat there,’ could help save a life. If anyone ever sees a baby alone in a hot car, don’t be concerned a parent might get mad about you dialing 9-1-1. The parent might consider you a lifesaver.”