July 3, 2006

Health Alert Issued in Britain as Heatwave Set to Continue

LONDON -- The heatwave across much of southern Britain poses "significant health risks" for the elderly and very young, officials warned on Monday.

The warning came after the Meteorological Office said it was raising its Heat-Health alert to the highest level since it started issuing heatwave warnings in 2004.

London and much of southern England and Wales are forecast to bake again on Monday and Tuesday with temperatures rising up to 32 degrees centigrade (90F).

Severe thunderstorms and heavy downpours are also expected during the week, the Met Office warned.

"The elderly are particularly vulnerable and it is important that those aged over 75, especially those who live alone or in care homes, take precautions to avoid heat exhaustion and heat stroke," the Chief Medical Officer Liam Donaldson said.

The Met Office raised its health alert to level 3 -- one short of the top level 4 which denotes a national emergency -- under plans introduced after the exceptionally hot weather of August 2003 in which 27,000 people died of heat-related causes in northwestern Europe, 15,000 of them in France.

The plan calls for health officials to issue public advice on how to stay cool, contact care homes, and monitor at-risk individuals such as the disabled living at home.

Hospitals will be put on standby in case there is a rise in admissions from heat-related conditions.

During the hot spell, older people and the young are at risk of suffering heat exhaustion and potentially fatal heatstroke, the health department warned in a public awareness leaflet.

Symptoms of heat exhaustion include headaches, dizziness, muscle cramps, nausea and vomiting.

Heatstroke can develop if these symptoms are untreated, but can also occur without warning.

The condition can spark intense thirst, confusion, convulsions and loss of consciousness, and can result in irreversible brain damage or death.

The leaflet advises people to drink water or fruit juice regularly and avoid alcohol, tea and coffee, which make dehydration worse.

The Met Office had issued a level 2 alert -- which requires health officials to start issuing heatwave advice -- on Saturday.

On Sunday, temperatures rose to over 32 degrees in London but further north there was flash flooding in Manchester following torrential downpours.