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Heat linked to 470 deaths, 225 hospitalizations every summer in Quebec

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High temperatures have a major detrimental impact on Quebec's health-care system, a team from the National Institute for Scientific Research (INRS) has shown, a finding more critical now given that these events are likely to multiply due to climate change.

Researchers found the impact on the health care system is felt throughout the summer, not just when the province experiences at least three consecutive days of very high temperatures.

"We really attacked the problem with temperatures that are high all summer long, not just for three days", explained the paper's lead author, Jérémie Boudreault.

More specifically, the scientists sought to quantify heat-related mortality and morbidity in five all-cause health parameters: mortality, hospitalizations, emergency room visits, ambulance transports and Info-Santé calls, for all of Quebec's socio-health regions.

They measured that, each summer in Quebec, high temperatures were associated with 470 deaths, 225 hospitalizations, 36,000 emergency room visits, 7,200 ambulance transports and 15,000 Info-Santé calls.

This health burden was most concentrated on the hottest 5 per cent of days in the summer, with nearly 200 deaths, 170 hospitalizations, 6,200 emergency room visits, 1,500 ambulance transports and 3,300 calls to Info-Santé.

The heat, added Boudreault, affects all components of the health-care system, without exception.

"It's important to have this information in the context of climate change, for example, so that we have the right staff to deal with periods of prolonged heat," he said.

"If we know that calls to Info-Santé will multiply," Boudreault cited as an example, "it will enable us to plan to avoid staff shortages."

Previous studies on the subject in Quebec didn't measure the impact of periods of extreme heat lasting less than three days, even though historical data shows that they do have an impact on the health-care system, added Boudreault, who is a candidate in INRS's customized PhD program in data science and environmental health, and who carried out this work under the supervision of professor Fateh Chebana.

It's important to look at the big picture, said Boudreault.

"What can we do to send a message to the Ministry of Health or even to the government?" he said. "Here's the impact we're having, and here's what the impact will be in the future. I think it really makes a strong argument that we need to put measures in place to reduce this burden, which is going to be greater and greater."

The findings of this study were published in the scientific journal Environmental Research.

- This report by The Canadian Press was first published in French on June 19, 2024.

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