It’s a long-established pattern in British Columbia that heat waves prompt a surge of injuries and illnesses, and healthcare agencies are bracing for the first such wave of the season as unseasonably hot weather settles over the province.
BC Emergency Health Services has activated their Clinical Safety Plan, which makes it easier and faster to call in more paramedics, dispatchers and supervisors as required.
“It’s right now at level 1, so it’s at a state of readiness to go in case we need to activate over the weekend, so we’re really prepared to make sure that it’s a safe weekend for everyone,” said paramedic public information officer, Brian Twaites. “We’re expecting we’ll see a spike in our call volume.”
E-Comm 911, which handles 911 dispatch services for the province, is unable to provide statistics until Monday, but has confirmed they see a surge in call volume during heat waves.
On Wednesday, only part of Metro Vancouver was under high health risk due to the heat, but as of Saturday morning, the entire Lower Mainland and much of the Interior had been upgraded to high health risk, with most of Vancouver Island and parts of central and north-eastern B.C. at medium risk, according to the BC Centre for Disease Control’s Heat Impacts Prediction System.
The forecast continues to be just shy of the criteria for a heat warning and the commensurate public health response.
MORE ILLNESS DURING A “RED ALERT”
Virtually at the same time as Environment and Climate Change Canada issued a Special Weather Statement for the heat, the province’s emergency physicians warned B.C.’s hospitals are so overwhelmed with patients they’re on “red alert,” with some patients waiting up to 48 hours in the emergency department.
For days, medical experts and officials alike have been urging people to be particularly cautious during this heat wave because our bodies haven’t acclimated to these kinds of temperatures after a cool, wet spring.
“It can be hard to detect the early stages,” said Dr. Michael Schwandt of the signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
The Vancouver Coastal Health Medical Health officer added that symptoms can appear and progress quickly: light-headedness, headache, and trouble cooling off can escalate to vomiting, fainting and lethargy.
“When we have neurological symptoms, so being confused, fainting or a lower level of consciousness — that can be a medical emergency, that would be heat stroke and it would be important to call 911,” said Schwandt.
If you’re not sure if you need emergency medical assistance, the 811 health line has nurses and other professionals on hand to answer questions.