Health and safety concerns for toddlers and children, pets, and seniors during B.C. heat wave

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      As Metro Vancouverites and British Columbians attempt to find ways to cope with the current heat wave, a number of organizations and authorities are reminding people to ensure safety and health measures are in place to protect toddlers and children, pets, and elderly people.

      In addition, the City of Vancouver launched temporary misting and cooling stations, and added temporary water fountains this week.

      Today, the City of Burnaby launched cooling stations in underground parkades (open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily) at:

      • Edmonds Community Centre (7433 Edmonds Street)
      • McGill Library (4595 Albert Street)
      • Bob Prittie Metrotown Library (6100 Willingdon Avenue)

      These stations have water, washrooms, and seating, and are in addition to public libraries, which have air conditioning.

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      Toddlers and children

      Local authorities and organizations are reminding residents to ensure that safety measures are in place to protect young ones or pets while attempting to keep residences cool.

      A recent example of a child falling through an open window serves as a reminder of the dangers that exist.

      Burnaby RCMP stated that around 9:30 p.m. on June 20, officers received a report from witnesses about a child falling from a window at Arcola Street near Sperling Avenue.

      A 14-month-old toddler had fallen from a window on a second floor but wasn’t seriously injured. He was taken to hospital for treatment.

      Burnaby RCMP stated that the parents had briefly stepped out of a room when the child is believed to have climbed up on to furniture and fell through a window without a screen that was left open due to the hot weather.

      CBC News reported that B.C. Children’s Hospital had to treat eight children so far this year for falling out of windows or off balconies, and two children under the age of four have died.

      With people increasingly leaving windows open during hot temperatures, Burnaby RCMP are urging residents to evaluate window safety for residences with children (as well as pets).

      Fraser Health has also provided a few tips:

      • household items should be moved away from windows to discourage children from climbing on top of them, as children begin climbing before they can walk;
      • as window screens do not prevent children from falling through them, window guards (which act as gates in front of windows) should be installed on all windows above ground level;
      • window and door safety locks can be installed so that they do not open more than 10 centimetres (four inches) but should have a safe-release option in case of a fire.
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      Although we may call such time periods “the dog days of summer”, pets often suffer during hot temperatures due to oversight or lack of awareness from pet owners.

      Every year, despite numerous reminders, pet owners continue to leave pets in overheating parked vehicles.

      The B.C. Public Safety Ministry warns that temperatures can rise to 52 C (125 F) within 20 minutes inside a vehicle when the outside temperature is 34 C (93 F). In addition, leaving car windows slightly open won't keep the vehicle interior at a safe temperature.

      B.C. SPCA spokesperson Lorie Chortyk stated that in 2020, the organization responded to over 800 calls about animals in distress in hot cars.

      Chortyk explained that dogs can only cool themselves by panting and by releasing heat through their paws because they do not have sweat glands. In particular, “older pets and brachycephalic breeds such as pugs, bulldogs, Boston terriers, and others with compressed faces” cannot withstand high temperatures.

      The B.C. SPCA is urging pet owners not to take their pets with them on a hot day, even if they only plan on leaving their pets in a parked vehicle for a few minutes.

      If anyone sees an animal in distress in a parked vehicle, the B.C. SPCA advises the public to call the B.C. SPCA Call Centre at 1-855-622-7722 during business hours or contact your local animal control agency, RCMP or police. The B.C. SPCA is reminding people that it is illegal for the public to break a window to access the vehicle themselves—only RCMP, police, and special B.C. SPCA provincial constables can lawfully enter a vehicle.  

      Heatstroke symptoms in pets include exaggerated panting (or the sudden stopping of panting), rapid or erratic pulse, salivation, anxious or staring expressions, weakness and muscle tremors, lack of coordination, convulsions, vomiting, or collapse. If a pet is showing these symptoms, the B.C. SPCA advises:

      • immediately move the animal to a cool, shady place; 
      • wet the animal with cool water; 
      • fan vigorously to promote evaporation, as this will cool the blood, which reduces the animal’s core temperature; 
      • do not apply ice—this constricts blood flow, which will inhibit cooling;
      • allow the animal to drink some cool water (or to lick ice cream if water is unavailable); 
      • take the animal to a veterinarian as soon as possible for further treatment.

      During the heat wave, owners can ensure that all pets can easily access water, shade, and cooling areas and help them avoid over-exertion or too much exercise.

      But it's not just pets that should not be left alone in vehicles—babies, toddlers, and children also shouldn't be left unattended in vehicles, even if windows are left somewhat open.

      Although this may seem obvious to most people, Lower Mainland police and first responders have had to rescue children trapped in overheating parked vehicles during hot weather. 

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      The B.C. Care Providers Association (BCCPA) and EngAge B.C. are also asking people to frequently check in on any elderly family members, friends, or neighbours during the heatwave by ensuring that they are regularly drinking water, remaining in cool locations, and are feeling well. 

      Alcoholic or caffeinated beverages should be avoided, and seniors should hydrate by drinking water or juice, and eating fruits and vegetables. 

      The BCCPA explained in a news release that extreme heat and poor air quality can affect the elderly and those with respiratory issues.

      As the bodies of elderly people often can’t adapt immediately to sudden temperature changes, they are at greater risk for heat illness and they may also be less aware of temperature changes, sometimes not even being aware that they are overheating.

      Health conditions and medications should also be considered as factors that may impair abilities to regulate body temperature.

      Signs of overheating include extreme thirst, dizziness, headache, nausea, cramps, fatigue, and cold or clammy skin.

      Heatstroke is a serious medical condition that requires immediate medical attention and, if left untreated, can cause damage to the brain, heart, and kidneys, and can be fatal. Heatstroke symptoms can include a body temperature of 40 C (104 F) or higher, inflamed skin without sweating, rapid pulse, headache, nausea, dizziness, and unconsciousness.

      Anyone with signs of heat illness that can’t be resolved by drinking water and cooling off needs immediate medical attention by calling 911.

      You can follow Craig Takeuchi on Twitter at @cinecraig or on Facebook.