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Heat-Related Deaths May Be Undercounted in U.S.

Including deaths involving, but not directly due to, hyperthermia increases number by 54 percent

FRIDAY, July 28 (HealthDay News) -- The number of heat-related deaths between 1999 and 2003 increased 54 percent when researchers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention included hyperthermia as a contributing, but not a direct, cause of death, according to a report in the July 28 issue of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

In that time, there were a total of 3,442 heat-related deaths in the United States, including 65 percent that were attributed to excessive heat, and 35 percent of cases in which hyperthermia was a contributing cause.

More men (66 percent) than women died of exposure to extreme heat, the researchers report. Forty percent (1,363) of those for whom age data were obtainable were aged 65 or older. Arizona had the highest hyperthermia-related death rate at 1.7 per 100,000 population, followed by Nevada and Missouri. In more than half (57 percent) of cases listing hyperthermia as a contributing cause of death, the root cause was heart disease.

In 29 percent of deaths involving hyperthermia as a contributing cause, unintentional poisonings and other external factors were listed as the root cause of death.

"Many heat-related deaths, regardless of whether they are associated with chronic medical conditions, are preventable," the authors write. "Groups at high risk include young children, persons aged over 65 years, persons who do strenuous activities outdoors, and persons with chronic (particularly cardiovascular) medical conditions."

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