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37% increase in heat-related deaths in Maricopa County this year

Posted at 7:34 PM, Sep 07, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-09 14:42:05-04

New numbers from Maricopa County show a dramatic increase in the number of heat-related deaths compared to this time last year.

According to the county’s public health department, there have been 111 heat-related deaths since March.

That’s a 37% increase compared to this time last year.

County leaders stress everyone needs to stay hydrated and avoid the heat when possible.

"I think the most important thing for people to understand is to protect themselves from the heat they really need to stay hydrated," said Dr. Rebecca Sunenshine, the county's medical director for disease control.

"That means drinking water before you go out, before you exercise and timing that exercise for the coolest parts of the day," she added.

Meanwhile, an expert with Arizona State University said you can still suffer heat-related illnesses even if you're hydrated.

"Water can help, it can make a big difference but when you're exposed to direct sunlight in extremely high temperatures, there's really not enough water you can drink to save you,” said Dr. Stavros Kavouras, an assistant dean and director of the school’s hydration science lab.

Kavouras told ABC15 he believes consistently high temperatures have contributed to the increased deaths.

"This extreme heat for people that have to work and be exposed to high temperatures for many hours, it's technically incompatible with life," he said.

"The heat load is extensive, and your body can't keep up with that," Kavouras added.

According to the county's latest report, about 80% of the heat-related deaths this year have happened outdoors. Additionally, a majority of the ones indoors happen in a place without a working air conditioner.

"That's why we really emphasize when it's hot, not just when there's an extreme heat warning, but when it's hot, check on your neighbors," said Sunenshine.

In addition to 111 confirmed heat-related deaths, the county is investigating more than 250 other deaths associated with the heat.

In 2021, the country reported a record-high 339 heat-associated deaths. Unfortunately, that record will likely be broken this year.

Maricopa County has a list of emergency cooling centers across the Valley.