J3.1 Pediatric Vehicular Heatstroke

Tuesday, 24 January 2017: 1:30 PM
Conference Center: Tahoma 5 (Washington State Convention Center )
Jan Null, San Jose State University, Saratoga, CA

Abstract for Eighth Conference on Environment and Health

Pediatric Vehicular Heatstroke

Author:  Jan Null, CCM
San Jose State University

Since 1998 almost 700 children in the United States have died from heatstroke (i.e., hyperthermia) inside hot motor vehicles.  This paper examines the problem from two viewpoints. First, the scope of the issue is examined to track the frequency and circumstances surrounding these tragedies.  It also looks at the heating dynamics of a vehicles, especially how rapidly they can reach lethal temperatures.

Heatstroke occurs when the body temperature reaches approximately 104 degrees F, often followed by death if the body temperatures rises to 107 degrees or greater.  The problem is exacerbated when children are involved because their body temperature rises at a rate 3 to 5 times faster than adult’s.  This research shows both the extremely rapid rate of temperature rise within vehicles (i.e., > 60% of the rise is in the first 15 minutes) and the extreme high temperatures that are attained inside a vehicle (in excess of 140 degrees F).  Even with relatively mild ambient temperatures vehicular temperatures can reach levels that put the life of infants and children in jeopardy. It also shows that leaving the windows opened slightly does not significantly slow the heating process. 

This paper also addresses the epidemiology of hyperthermia deaths of children in vehicles, which has literally reached epidemic proportions.  Both the temporal and geographic distribution of incidents are tracked as are the types of circumstances under which they occur.  Additionally, how these cases fit into the overall gathering of “heat” related deaths nationwide and how these cases may (or may not) be prosecuted is examined.

Ultimately, this research will serve as a tool for both the health and meteorology communities to provide accurate and timely information to caregivers, advocates and policy makers to save young lives.

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