The current heat wave could combine with the coronavirus to kill people in southern Wisconsin, but not in the way you might think.
Dr. Jay MacNeal of Mercyhealth said people suffering heatstroke might decide to stay home because they fear catching the virus at the hospital, and they could die when they might have been saved.
It’s already happened here more than once with people experiencing chest pains, MacNeal said. People frightened of hospitals because of the chance of catching the virus didn’t go to the ER, and they died.
People with life-threatening conditions should come to the ER for treatment, and that includes heatstroke, MacNeal stressed.
High temperatures in Janesville have exceeded 86 degrees since June 27. They hit 91 on Sunday, and hotter days are ahead.
The AccuWeather forecast service predicted a high of 95 for Wednesday and not much better the rest of the week.
Mercyhealth reports an increase in heat-related illness, with symptoms such as fatigue, dizziness and headaches since June 27 in all its Rock County facilities.
SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital-Janesville has seen at least two heat-related cases since June 27. The hospital might have seen more cases that haven’t yet found their way into the hospital data, a spokeswoman said.
Heat exhaustion symptoms mentioned above, along with nausea and heavy sweating, could lead to more serious and potentially lethal heat stroke.
Heatstroke symptoms include a high temperature and even loss of consciousness.
“You’re at the point where your body no longer is able to compensate for the heat load,” MacNeal said.
“If you stop sweating, you’re super in trouble,” said Capt. John McManus of the Janesville Fire Department.
But MacNeal said it’s hard to tell when sweating stops because a shirt might be soaked with previous sweat or with water a person has poured on herself.
A key symptom is mental confusion, so if a person is not acting normally, get him to the ER right away, MacNeal said.
The elderly and those taking blood-pressure medications are particularly susceptible, MacNeal said.
The doctor recommends people confine outdoor activities to early morning or evening when temperatures are lower.
But even then, with current conditions, “You probably need to be drinking more than you think you do,” MacNeal said.
MacNeal has worked in disaster relief after hurricanes, when lack of electric power meant no air conditioning. Workers were told to monitor their urine. Dark urine is a sign of dehydration.
MacNeal said the fact that Janesville city parks water fountains remain dry because of COVID-19 concerns “adds to the complexity of this.”
Children generally can deal with the heat better than older people, but children might not communicate well and need to be encouraged to drink frequently in this heat, MacNeal said.
MacNeal recommends a buddy system when a member of the household is working in the yard.
“Have somebody keep an eye on you,” MacNeal said. “Encourage each other to remain hydrated.”
As for the chance of catching the coronavirus, MacNeal said all the hospitals in this area take precautions far beyond what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend.
“You’re probably safer in the hospital than going to a lot of places you’re going to go to,” he said. “We don’t want people sitting at home, worrying about corona and dying of heatstroke.”