ACT News

Canberra emergency department visits jump after warm weekend and Summernats

Emergency departments in Canberra were busier than usual at the weekend after days of high temperatures and Summernats.

With the mercury forecast to exceed 30 degrees each day this week until Saturday, health professionals are warning Canberrans to be aware of the dangers of heat-related illnesses. 

Stuart Stapleton, director of emergency at Calvary Hospital, said there had been a bump in emergency department visits at the weekend, and it was mostly related to Summernats, with "people out in the sun, getting dehydrated in various ways and a bit of sunburn and things".

"We usually get a bit of that with Summernats every year and, in fact, the territory puts out a health notice leading up to Summernats to warn us and Canberra Hospital it's coming and to get ready," Dr Stapleton said. 

He said there were also a "few" alcohol-related presentations.

"With this time of year, it's often hard to sift out what that's all due to – whether it's due to Summernats or just the festive season," he said. 

There were about 170 presentations to the Calvary emergency department on Saturday and about a dozen of those were heat-related. 

"It was a bit more than you'd normally expect," Dr Stapleton said. 

Canberra has recorded a warm start to 2015, with temperatures climbing to a top of 32.6 degrees  on Thursday, 35.2 on Friday, 34.7 on Saturday and 32.5 on Sunday. 

Dr Stapleton said, with another warm week on the cards for the ACT, people should take care in the heat, especially the elderly and children, who were more vulnerable.

"Where you tend to see more issues when you have prolonged heat is more in the elderly, particularly the elderly in nursing homes and those who have some type of cognitive impairment because they just don't keep up their hydration and so they can grumble along for a few days and then suddenly get quite unwell and end up in the emergency department," he said. 

Dr Stapleton said people should try to avoid the heat where possible and remain hydrated. 

An "average" 70-kilogram person needed between 1.5 and 3 litres of fluid in 24 hours. 

If heat stress was not managed properly, it could lead to heat stroke, which could result in multi-organ failure. 

Dr Stapleton said mild to moderate heat illness could cause dehydration, which could affect a person's blood pressure and kidney function. 

"The best way to avoid all of that is to keep your fluids up to make sure that you're passing urine. If you're passing reasonable amounts of urine, then you're in a good place," he said. 

Symptoms of heat stress may include fatigue, headaches, dizziness, nausea and vomiting. In babies and small children, symptoms may include restlessness and irritability.

ACT Health director-general Dr Peggy Brown urged people not to ignore the symptoms of heat stress. 

"It is a condition which can potentially become very serious," she said.

If a person becomes unresponsive, confused or disoriented in the heat, they should seek urgent medical attention.