Spike in heat-related ER visits among young people

PORTLAND Ore. (KPTV) – Public health officials found a surprising and troubling trend during this week’s dangerous heatwave.

Multnomah County Public Health reported an increase in young people whose jobs require them to be outside ending up in the emergency room.

The county said at least a third of emergency room visits seen this week during the heatwave were connected to people overheating on the job.

Despite a major heatwave in Portland this week, the staff at Cornell Farm in Northwest Portland were showing up to work like any other day, but with extra precautions.

“Taking breaks more often in an air-conditioned area, making sure we’re drinking our water, and reapplying our SPF for sure,” said Josie Losh, who works every day outside tending to plants. “We have a buddy system so if you come in and start a shift with somebody else you want to be checking in on that person.”

Losh and her coworkers tend to plant year-round at Cornell Farm no matter the weather. On the last day, Multnomah County Public Health said health investigators saw younger people getting treated for heat exhaustion in local emergency rooms because they’ve built up heat exhaustion symptoms over multiple days.

Younger people who think they’re a little bit infallible are out there working and they’re not taking enough breaks,” said Acting Health Officer, Dr. Ann Loeffler. “They’re not drinking enough fluids and most importantly they’re not getting inside to where the temperatures are actually low.”

Loeffler said it’s crucial to get to an air-conditioned space at the end of your work day, but said people can sometimes miss simple precautions that need to be taken.

“They may be building (heat exhaustion) effects because they don’t completely hydrate themselves or they’re not taking in some foods that have some sodium and potassium,” said Loeffler. “Some people aren’t eating enough food because lots of people don’t eat a lot when they’re kind of feeling overheated.”

For Losh at Cornell Farm, she said the recovery after a long day at work in the heat is just as important as taking precautions while at work.

“Even if you have a water bottle on hand all day, it’s still hard to get the recommended amount of water,” she said. “When I get home I definitely make sure I’m hydrating with water and other things that have electrolytes like coconut water.”

As of Friday, Multnomah County Public Health said there have been over 30 ER visits since last Sunday at the start of the heatwave, and over 70 heat-related 911 calls for people showing signs of heat exhaustion.

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