Hospitals report rise in heatwave-related cases, but not to critical levels

Ambulance (photo is illustrative).
Ambulance (photo is illustrative). Source: Rene Kundla/ERR

The recent heatwave, while it did see a rise in emergency room cases in Estonia's hospitals, and ambulance call-outs, did not cause significant problems, while much of the increase in incidents reported could be put down to the midsummer holiday.

Figures from Statistics Estonia reveal that while 292 people died in the second week of June, the number had risen to 331 in the third week of the month, the point at which both the midsummer break and the start of the heatwave arrived.

Riina Räni, the senior doctor at the Tallinn ambulance service (Kiirabi), said that health problems caused by the heat, such as a lack of water or salt in the body, have presented, but have not been overwhelming in numbers.

She said: "The biggest problem is suffering for a long time, not being able to cool down at all - this kind of exhaustion, it is prevalent."

Individuals who have to carry out manual labor in 30C heat, such as those laying asphalt, are at the greatest risk, Räni went on. 

"The main reason is the lack of salt in the body, which helps retain water," Räni said. "Our own employees also suffer from the heat too; it can get to 50C inside the vehicles, and we wear the same clothing all year round."

Kuido Nõmme, doctor of emergency medicine at Tartu University Hospital, told ERR that since the beginning of the heat wave, which coincided with the beginning of summer this year, more people have presented at emergency rooms.

"Whereas usually around 120-130 patients arrive [at the ER per day], during the holidays and the following days it rose to 170," he said.

At the same time, the stress on emergency rooms during Midsummer tend to rise anyway, regardless of the outside temperature.

In the southern town of Võru, the number of people turning to the South Estonia Hospital (Lõuna-Eesti haigla) has also been on the rise since the holidays, though there has currently only been one patient specifically diagnosed with heatstroke.

Ave Abel, communications manager at the South Estonia Hospital, said: "The number of ambulance out-calls has not increased significantly. The number of calls was higher, but that is generally the case during the holidays," said

Gertu-Liis Henga, head nurse at the Viljandi Hospital ER, also said that the hot weather had brought a surge in patient numbers.

Back in Tallinn, Riina Räni said that dehydration was more likely to threaten the elderly, who sometimes do not drink enough, or at all, while the homeless are another at-risk group, though members of the public often summons an ambulance when they see someone who could be in trouble.

Kuido Nõmme said, however that the number of patients with a specific diagnosis of heatstroke at Tartu had not significantly risen, while Veronika Reinhard, board chair of Tartu ambulance, said that most people are aware of the risks of hot weather, and there had not been any drastic number of cases.

Mati Kallas, head of Viljandi hospital's diagnostic clinic, said that while 33 patients died in the hospital in June, compared with 17 people in April and 23 in May, this could not directly be linked to the heatwave alone.

Riina Rani said that nature tends to abhor a vacuum and, with the pause in Covid, at least in terms of media coverage, restrictions and the like, something else will come along – in this case new types of narcotics, such as metonitasene, which has caused several fatalities, well as the heatwave.

Veronika Reinhard, meanwhile, said these type of illicit drugs had not yet reached Tartu, and the rate of mortality had not risen.

Ave Abel, at the South Estonia Hospital, said however that health problems may worsen in the hot weather in people with several chronic diseases, particularly relating to heart and kidney failure.

While people, particularly older people, may not drink enough water, it is possible to over-hydrate, she added, which can also cause issues.

Older people tend to stay in the shade more, Abel added, and it is often the young, including children, who stay out in the hot sun too much.

The worst of the recent heatwave has passed, with average temperatures forecast to be around 20C this week (compared with highs well over 30C last week) and more showers likely to appear.

The hot weather and the holidays can also bring with them associated risks, such as fire risks from poorly constructed or sited, or unattended, bonfires, drink-related incidents and water-borne incidents.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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