AK: Summer heatwave factor in higher death rate for 2021 so far

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Piret Viiklepp, head of registers department at the National Institute for Health Development Source: ERR

1,600 more people have died in Estonia in the first seven months of this year than at the same point in 2020. The midsummer heatwave has been identified as the main factor, ETV news show 'Aktuaane kaamera' (AK) reported Friday evening, with those with underlying, chronic illnesses particularly hard hit.

Piret Viiklepp, head of registers department at the National Institute for Health Development (Tervise arengu instituut), told AK that: "Those people who are older, more vulnerable, suffer from a great many chronic diseases, for them, this sudden heatwave was just too much. [...] This is not a heat stroke, but the effect of the heat on the chronically ill, whose hearts could not stand up to it."

In June this year, 1,368 people died in Estonia, compared with 1,175 in June 2020

In July, 1,330 people died. In July 2020 the figure was 1,251.

This gives an increase of 272 for June and July alone, while over the year to July the rise is 1,600 deaths on 2020, AK said.

COVID-19 was not a major factor in the raised mortality rates – June and July saw 28 deaths relating to the coronavirus, AK reported.

Excessive mortality occurred most during the week of midsummer and the first week of July, precisely the time when the worst of the heatwave struck.

Viiklepp told AK it was common that heat claims most of its victims at the beginning of a hot spell, when the body is not used to such a sharp contrast in temperature. A lack of public knowledge on how to deal with hot weather was also a factor, she said.

Hans Orru, associate professor in environmental health at the University of Tartu, told AK that even small increases in temperatures can make their effects on mortality rates known.

Orru said: "If the temperatures are higher, if the maximum temperatures are more than 27C, we will see a small increase in mortality, if more than 30C, the increase is already quite large."

The older the person is, the greater the likelihood that the heat may become fatal to them, Orru added, while even in hospitals, the high temperatures had been a problem.

He said: "Several students who worked in hospitals over the summer talked about how it was 30C+ degrees in many wards. Where patients had to be evacuated from one ward to another. Admittedly, this was just one building, but there are a lot of hospitals in Estonia where the temperatures are very high in summer and this should be dealt with very quickly."

The same problem exists in many care homes, though Vassili Novak, chief of the emergency medicine center of the North Estonia Medical Center (PERH), told AK that Emergency Rooms saw no noticeable increase in deaths.

Heatwave victims often pass doctors by, particularly in the case of those with chronic illnesses, rather than otherwise healthy individuals suffering from heatstroke, AK reported.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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