The Health Department of Santos, a beach town off the coast of São Paulo, Brazil, blames a strong heat wave that hit the Brazilian Southeast in recent days for the deaths, on January 8 and 9, of 32 elderly people aged 60 to 97 years.
On the eighth the temperature reached 39 degrees Celsius with a thermal sensation of 41° C, and relative humidity at 21%. According to the Health Department 15 of the deaths occurred in emergency rooms while the other 17 happened at home. The city has in average 24 deaths a month in residences.
Most of the deaths, doctors say, were caused by acute respiratory failure associated with pneumonia or renal failure. Many of victims had preexisting conditions such as hypertension, diabetes or chronic kidney failure, all of them aggravated by the heat.
The Secretary of Health Santos, Odílio Rodrigues Filho explained what happened: “When one is younger, the body compensates with more ease when there is lack of water. In an elderly person with a heart problem, for example, the heart has to pump harder to compensate for this, and then there is the imbalance.”
The city has started a public campaign warning people about the dangers of dehydration and teaching them how to deal with the heat.
In Rio, the heat has reached even higher peaks. Cariocas, as Rio natives are called, have been punished by the intense heat and their Marvelous City is now among the hottest places in the world. This Wednesday Rio recorded the second largest thermal sensation on the planet.
According to Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE), at 1 pm, Jacarepaguá, in the city’s West side recorded the second largest thermal sensations on the planet: 43.9 degrees centigrade (111 Fahrenheit), losing only to Ada, in Ghana, in the African continent. On Tuesday this number was even higher. Rio reached a thermal sensation of 46.3 C (115.3 F).
The Sahara is not a match. The top thermal sensation of that desert on Wednesday was a mere 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit).
The rain that fell on Tuesday didn’t help much. The National Institute of Meteorology (Inmet) tells that there hasn’t been so hot a February since the institute started its measurement 100 years ago. The average temperature of the first nine days of the month was 39.7° C (103.5° F.
Brazilians are learning that high temperatures are harmful to their health. At the emergency room of the Hospital Miguel Couto, in Leblon, Rio’s South side, the number of patients went up 10% in January compared to the same period of 2009. Many people complain of fatigue, cramps, headache, a general malaise.
The head of emergency there, Dr. Alexandre Pedrosa has alerted the population for the evils of the heat: “The ideal is that people could drink fluids every hour, a glass of water or juice and other isotonic. This is the most important thing to do.”
In Rio, lawyers used the heat to bring back a cause they’ve been fighting for a long time: the obligation to wear suit and tie even when temperatures go sky high.
The outcry has led the Rio de Janeiro Bar Association (OAB-RJ) on Monday to file a request before the National Council of Justice to end the mandatory use of ties and suits when temperatures go up like they have in recent days.