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Steps Help Prevent Many Heat Problems
By Bethany Waldrop Keiper
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Recent skyrocketing temperatures and dry weather have let Mississippians know the dog days of summer are here to stay. Unfortunately, hot weather isn't just a nuisance; without the proper precautions it can be life-threatening for people, pets and plants.
Linda Patterson, extension health specialist at Mississippi State University, said the high temperatures and humidity stress the body's ability to cool itself, making heat illness a special concern.
"Anytime the temperature is more than 84 degrees and the humidity is more than 90 percent, people need to adjust their outside activity," Patterson said. "Be alert at these levels or any combinations of high heat and humidity."
When the heat index is high, people should drink fluids more frequently (water is best) and try to limit outdoor activity under extreme conditions.
Heat stress may overcome the body's ability to regulate internal body temperature at a safe level and cause heat stroke. Signs of heat stroke include nausea, weakness, fainting, pale clammy skin and profuse perspiration. Heat stroke is a life-threatening situation.
"You don't have to avoid outdoor activity in the heat to prevent heat stress, just decrease the intensity and the duration of the activities and increase fluids," Patterson said. "There are no benefits to gain by working, playing, gardening or exercising to exhaustion."
Young children, older adults and those with cardiovascular disease often are more at risk for heat stress. To help prevent heat illness or stroke, drink a lot of liquids even before you get thirsty. Make sure to get enough vitamins and minerals each day, especially potassium, and avoid alcohol and caffeinated beverages.
Take a break if you feel overheated or a headache coming on.
Wear light-weight, light colored clothing when working outdoors.
Take advantage of fans and air conditioners, and be sure to get enough sleep.
Pets also need special care during hot weather, said Dr. Gerald Radde, small animal veterinarian at MSU's College of Veterinary Medicine. Make sure animals have constant access to a cool, shaded, well-ventilated area. Pets need a lot of fresh, clean water every day and fresh food in a clean dish or bowl every day.
"If your dog is on a chain or rope, make sure tangles will not keep him away from water or shade," Radde said. "The animal's area must be shady with dishes of water in different spots."
Make sure never to leave pets alone in a hot car.
"We see cases every summer of pets that have overheated as a result of being left in a car," Radde said. "Simply rolling the windows down a little is not enough to keep a pet cool inside a parked car."
The hot weather and irregular rainfall this time of year also can be a fatal combination to gardens, landscapes and potted plants.
Norman Winter, extension horticulturist in Raymond, said trees and shrubs need to be watered deeply and less frequently so their root systems will develop deep into the soil.
"Outdoor potted or container plants need water every day," Winter said. "This constant watering leaches nutrients from the soil, so be sure to fertilize these plants regularly."
Providing sufficient moisture to vegetables is important. Without enough water, vegetables stop producing or generate a smaller product.
Winter recommended watering vegetable gardens once a week.
"Gardeners should water their vegetables and flowers in the early morning or late afternoon and use mulch around the plants to retain soil moisture," Winter said. "Water at the roots rather than on the foliage to prevent diseases."