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Medical professionals report increase in heat illness cases


Not everyone can find respite from the heat. Genoveva Rodriguez lives in a Union Avenue motel room, so for her, walking to Central Park in 107-degree temperatures, in this June 17 photo, is worth it. "I don't like it there," she said of the motel. "But I try to stay strong. I come here to be with the birds. That's what I do to get through."

Kern County physicians say they're seeing an increase in heat-related illnesses lately as temperatures soar and local residents fail to keep themselves adequately hydrated or otherwise protected from excessively high temperatures.

While there have been reports of people literally passing out because of the heat and hurting themselves in the ensuing collapse, many of the cases related to people who end up in emergency rooms or health clinics because of pre-existing conditions such as diabetes and heart failure.

"The dehydration's just too tough on them," said Dr. Jonathan Dario, a Bakersfield physician and department chairman of medicine at Adventist Health Bakersfield.

Local hospitals and clinics were unable Monday to provide data showing an increase of medical emergencies or an itemized listing of reasons patients report coming in. But several pointed to an increase in emergency-room visits, and their assumption is that heat is the cause.

Dr. Matthew Beare said people coming to the Clinica Sierra Vista clinic where he works on Baker Street are struggling to keep their fluids in balance because of the heat. Patients with congestive heart failure are either drinking too little water in the heat or they're drinking too much to stay cool. He said either one can be a problem.

"With patients who have (congestive) heart failure, your fluid balance is sort of a key element in keeping the stress on your heart minimized," he said, adding that people suffering from the disease have recently stopped in complaining of chest pain and abnormal rhythms, all because of undue stress the heat places on their body.

"For sure we've had an increase in the number of cardiac-related complaints that we see that ... we can correlate very nicely with the heat wave," Beare said.

Acute exacerbation of acute constipation has become another big draw for the clinic, he said, as people's bodies lose large amounts of fluid and their bowels cannot perform properly.

Mental health can also deteriorate in the heat, which he said may be responsible for greater numbers of patients reporting anxiety and depression in recent weeks.

Dario said the instance of heat-related illnesses has clearly picked up as high temperatures have become more consistent during the last couple of weeks. Most of those cases relate to over-exposure and dehydration, he noted, including renal failure as lack of fluid overworks people's kidneys.

Some patients simply haven't taken in enough electrolytes or water, he said, and as a result they experience nausea, vomiting or headache. In the more extreme cases people simply faint.

"That's a very common occurrence," he said, adding people may be outside with family for a short time before they drop. "The sweating and the heat is just so much for them that they end up passing out."

A spokeswoman for Bakersfield Heart Hospital said an emergency room doctor at the medical center told her Monday the volume of people coming in for treatment has increased, and possibly it's heat-related. The hospital saw a single case of heat exhaustion over the weekend — a minor case she said did not require that the patient be admitted.

Dr. Hemmal Kothary, chief medical officer for Dignity Health’s Central California market hospitals, said he has not noticed a significant increase recently in patients with heat-related illnesses. But that may change.

"I think this week will be very telling on what's going to happen," he said.

His advice was that people avoid the sun as much as possible and stay hydrated. People should be careful not to drink excessive amounts of drinks such as Gatorade that contain electrolytes but instead drink maybe a single bottle of such beverages and then stick with water.

People should keep an eye out for signs of heat exhaustion, such as headaches, dizziness, fainting, muscle cramps, muscle weakness, excessive sweating and excessive thirst, Kothary said.

Even more concerning, he warned, are indications of heat stroke, which can be fatal. He said to be vigilant about signs of confusion, cessation of sweating in hot weather and hot and red skin.

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  • Positive Cases Among Kern Residents: 158,009

  • Deaths: 1,814

  • Recovered and Presumed Recovered Residents: 150,579 

  • Percentage of all cases that are unvaccinated: 92.04

  • Percentage of all hospitalizations that are unvaccinated: 92.61