Published in: BMJ Open 2016
Background Heatwave warning systems aim to assist in reducing health effects during extreme heat. Evaluations of such systems have been limited. This study explored the effect of a heatwave warning programme on morbidity and mortality in Adelaide, South Australia, by comparing extreme events in 2009 and 2014, the latter with exposure to the preventive programme.
Methods The health outcomes during the two heatwaves were compared using the incidence rate ratios (IRRs) of daily ambulance call-outs, emergency presentations and mortality data during the heatwaves compared with non-heatwave periods during the warm seasons. Excess or reduced numbers of cases were calculated and the differences in cases between the two heatwaves were estimated.
Results IRRs for total ambulance call-outs and emergency presentations were lower during the 2014 heatwaves compared with the 2009 event. The estimated differences in health-specific outcomes between 2009 and 2014 were statistically significant with 207 (59%) for cardiac-related call-outs, 134 (30%) for renal and 145 (56%) for heat-related emergency presentations. Mortality was not reduced in 2014. There were an estimated 34.5 excess deaths in 2009 and 38.2 in 2014.
Conclusions Morbidity outcomes were reduced significantly during the 2014 event. The fact that cardiac, renal and heat-related diagnoses were significantly reduced is likely to be associated with the intervention in 2014, which comprised a public warning through media and intense preventive measures directed to individual populations at risk. Further analysis of risk factors of mortality during heatwaves should be explored.