Heat Stroke is a Child-Killer

By Connie Bobik

August 28, 2012 - Hardly a day goes by that we don’t hear about record heat and triple digit temperatures.

That puts young children, especially infants, at high risk for heat stroke.

Infants have a poor ability to regulate body temperature. Their temperature can rise three to five times faster than adults, making them more vulnerable to danger from the heat.

There is no infant or child more at risk than one strapped in a car seat inside a vehicle on a hot day. In the US, one child dies that way every nine days. More than half are under age two.

Florida is one of the two states that accounts for the most deaths. There is also an unknown number of children seriously injured resulting in blindness, hearing loss and brain injury.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says temperatures within a vehicle can jump 20 degrees above the outside temperature within 10 minutes. The hotter the day, the faster it climbs.

For example, if the outside temperature is 90 degrees, the temperature inside a closed vehicle can quickly reach 110 degrees or more, even with a window slightly opened.

There are several reasons for heat stroke deaths among infants and young children:
• A child is forgotten by a parent or caregiver. This accounts for more than 50 percent of fatalities.
• A child is left intentionally by an adult thinking they will return in a minute and do not realize how quickly heat rises to fatal levels even on mild days.
• A child enters an unattended, unlocked car.

Here are some reminders for parents and caregivers to prevent tragedies:
• Never leave a child unattended in a vehicle, even for a minute.
• Place a purse or briefcase in the back seat to help ensure you don’t forget a child is there in a car seat.
• Ask childcare providers to call if child does not arrive as scheduled.
• Always lock your car even in the driveway, and make sure children do not have access to keys or remote entry devices.
• Place a sticky note with the word "baby" or a small picture of baby on the dash.
• Make "look before you leave" a routine whenever you get out of the car.

Finally, if you see a child unattended in a locked car, call 911 immediately. You may save a life.

Connie Bobik is an associate professor of nursing and director of Brevard Community College’s Nursing program on the Cocoa Campus.