Monday, April 6, 2009

Death toll soared during Victoria's heatwave

  • Mex Cooper
  • The Age, April 6, 2009 - 3:57PM

Health authorities believe Victoria's record-breaking heatwave might have contributed to the deaths of about 374 people.

As temperatures soared between January 26 and February 1, so did the state's death toll with a 62% jump from the same time last year.

Victoria's chief health officer Dr John Carnie today revealed 980 people had died during the week compared to a mean of 606 deaths for the previous five years.

Most of those who died, 248 people, were aged 75 years or older with 46 people aged between 65 and 74.

Dr Carnie said it was not possible to say how many of the deaths had been brought forward by days or weeks because of the extreme heat.

"Nor is it possible to say how many cases the death was totally unexpected and due principally to the effects of the heatwave," he said.

Melbourne sweltered during the heatwave with three consecutive days of above 43 degrees and maximum temperatures up to 15 degrees higher than average.

A report released into the health impacts of the heatwave found:

- Paramedics were called to nearly three times as many heart-attack patients;

- Locums had twice as many calls to attend on a deceased person;

- There was a threefold increase in the number of patients dead on arrival at emergency departments; and

-There was a 77 per cent increase in the number of deaths reported to the State Coroner.

The findings were based on de-identified data collected by paramedics, locums, emergency departments, Victoria's death registry and the Coroner.

"We can not tell you who these people were, what they died from, or where they lived," Dr Carnie said.

Senior Victorians Minister Lisa Neville said the Government had repeatedly issued health warnings during the heatwave but today announced extra funding to protect the elderly in future.

She said $1 million would go towards rolling out a seniors' register that already exists in 20 communities.

Seniors who voluntarily register will receive telephone check-ups during emergencies such as heatwaves and bushfires.

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