Health information during bushfires
The Victorian bushfires this season are considered worst on record. In reading the news from over night, I came across this article from ABC Melbourne
Incidents such as bushfires not only affect the environment but also people's health.
Preventing heat related illness
- Drink plenty of water and fluids (non alcoholic). If your fluid intake is limited by medication you may need to check with your doctor how much to drink when it is hot;
- Never leave anyone in a closed parked car;
- Stay indoors, if possible in air-conditioning, or in the shade;
- Reduce physical activity;
- Wear light weight, loose-fitting clothing;
- Take a cool shower or bath;
- Know the signs and symptoms of excessive heat exposure and how to respond;
- Protect yourself from the sun and slip, slop, slap when outside by covering exposed skin, using sunscreen and wearing a hat; and
- People who care for the very young or elderly should monitor their condition, especially if they have a pre-existing condition such as heart disease or high blood pressure.
- Extended days of very hot weather can affect people emotionally as well as physically. It is common that people may start feeling tired, irritable or a bit vague. It is important to relax and stay as cool and as hydrated as you can. Look after yourself and others around you.
Signs of heat related illness
- Heat cramps are muscle pains or spasms, usually in the abdomen, arms or legs. They may occur after strenuous activity in hot conditions when the body is depleted of salt and water;
- Heat exhaustion is a serious condition that can develop into heat stroke;
- Warning signs may include paleness and sweating, rapid heart rate, muscle cramps, weakness, dizziness, headache, nausea, vomiting and fainting;
- Heat stroke is a life-threatening emergency. It occurs when the body is unable to prevent the temperature rising rapidly;
- The symptoms may be the same as for heat exhaustion, but the skin may be dry with no sweating, and the person's mental condition worsens.
- They may stagger, appear confused, fit or collapse and become unconscious;
- Anyone experiencing any of these symptoms should be provided with medical assistance immediately.
Bushfire smoke and your health
- Minimise the amount of physical activity outdoors;
- People with pre-existing lung or heart conditions should rest as much as possible and keep away from the smoke;
- When indoors, keep windows and doors closed. Air-conditioners should be switched to "recycle or recirculate" to reduce the amount of smoke drawn inside;
- If your home is too hot, try to take an air-conditioned break at a local community library or shopping centre;
- Anyone with a lung or heart condition should keep at least 5 days of medication on hand. Asthmatics should follow their personal asthma plan; and
- Anyone experiencing breathing problems or chest pain should seek medical advice immediately.
Food safety and emergency power failure
- The most important thing is to try to keep cold and frozen food cold. If food is still cold to touch, less than 5 degrees C, it is safe to use;
- Once cold or frozen food is no longer cold to the touch, it can be kept and eaten up to four hours and then must be thrown out. If it is raw meat is should be cooked and eaten;
- Only open fridge and freezer doors when absolutely necessary;
- If available, put bagged ice under food packages and trays stored in freezers and fridges if power failure lasts for more than one hour; and
- If power is restored when frozen food is still cold to the touch - less than 5 degree C - the food is safe to refreeze.
Advice for people with water tanks
- Install a first flush diverter between the roof and the tank to prevent ash and other debris contaminating the water;
- If the water tastes or smells unusual, or is cloudy, has an unusual colour or contains particles, assume it is contaminated and do not use it for drinking, preparing food or making ice;
- The tank should be cleaned and refilled with new rainwater or clean water brought in by a water tanker/carter;
- Regardless of whether your tank needs cleaning, the roof still needs to be cleaned to prevent contamination by debris entering the tank when it rains; and
- Water that is not suitable to drink may still be used for fire fighting or watering the garden, but do not give it to animals.
The stress of being under threat
- Emergency threat stress is a normal reaction to a prolonged emergency, such as bushfires;
- By concentrating on your and others' physical and emotional wellbeing, you can maintain your capacity to cope;
- Take regular food and drink breaks, preferably before you need them;
- Don't work 'till you drop', it takes too long to recover;
- Focus on self-care - don't take risks - you survive best if unhurt and perform better during the crisis;
- Take emotional 'breaks' by putting aside fears and worries;
- Remember that you, your family, and your community are not alone. Support is available through agencies coordinated by the Department of Human Services.
- First contact your local council to see what services are available.
- The Department of Human Services also provides a range of fact sheets for people affected by emergencies at: http://www.dhs.vic.gov.au/emergency
- General information is available by calling the Victorian Bushfire Information Line on 1800 240 667.
- If you become unwell seek medical attention promptly.
Source: ABC Melbourne