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Extreme Weather Kills 2,000 in U.S. Each Year: CDC

Heat contributes to nearly one-third of those deaths, report finds

WebMD News from HealthDay

By Steven Reinberg

HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, July 30, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Each year in the United States, at least 2,000 Americans die from extreme heat or cold, floods or lightning, health officials said Wednesday.

Heat waves, heat stroke or sun stroke caused nearly one-third of more than 10,600 weather-related deaths reported between 2006 and 2010, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Cold snaps or hypothermia -- a severe loss of body heat -- accounted for 63 percent of those weather-related deaths. The others died in floods, storms or from lightning strikes, CDC researchers said.

"We think deaths from heat are underreported, because people who die during heat waves don't have their deaths attributed to heat," said Jennifer Parker, a special projects branch chief at the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics.

Instead, heat waves tend to exacerbate existing health conditions such as heart disease and respiratory illness, which are then recorded as the cause of death.

Extreme weather events will likely increase as a result of climate change, according to background information with the report. But the researchers couldn't determine whether weather-related deaths were increasing or were linked to climate change.

"In this report, we examined weather-related deaths over a five-year period. The time period studied is not long enough for us to draw conclusions about trends in weather-related deaths," said Shubhayu Saha, a health scientist in the climate and health program at the National Center for Environmental Health.

The researchers found that death rates varied by age -- people over 75 were especially vulnerable -- race and gender. Moreover, the risk of dying from heat or cold was highest among the poorest Americans. But neither Parker or Saha would speculate on why these disparities exist.

Dr. Robert Glatter, an emergency medicine physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, said the study results reinforce previous findings that older black males have higher death rates related to extremes of weather compared to all other subgroups.

Men -- who accounted for about 68 percent of weather-related deaths -- were 2.5 times more likely to die from cold or heat as women. They were twice as likely as women to die from flood, lightning or storms.

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