Over 60 People Die amid Heatwave in Oregon: 'A True Health Crisis,' Says County Official
In Multnomah County, which includes Portland, officials said 45 people have died since June 25 due to excessive heat
More than 60 people have died in Oregon as temperatures continue to soar across the Pacific Northwest, according to officials.
As of Wednesday, a total of 63 people have died in the state, the Oregon State Medical Examiner's Office confirmed in a press release obtained by PEOPLE.
The 63 deaths are believed to be related to the Pacific Northwest heatwave, though the final causes of death have not yet been determined, the press release stated.
In Multnomah County, which includes Portland, Medical Examiner's officials said 45 people have died, according to the press release.
There were also nine deaths in Marion County, five deaths in Washington County, two in Clackamas County, and one each in Columbia and Umatilla counties, the press release stated.
On Wednesday, Multnomah County officials addressed the deaths in a press release, explaining that the preliminary cause of death for the 45 victims was hyperthermia.
Hyperthermia is "an abnormally high body temperature caused by a failure of the body to deal with heat coming from the environment," the press release notes.
In comparison, officials said the number was nearly four times that of those recorded in Oregon between 2017-2019. (Only 12 deaths due to hyperthermia were recorded in that time.)
According to the press release, those who died ranged in age from 44 to 97 and included 17 women and 27 men — many of whom had underlying health conditions. Officials also said many of the victims were found "alone, without air conditioning or a fan."
"This was a true health crisis that has underscored how deadly an extreme heat wave can be, especially to otherwise vulnerable people,'' Dr. Jennifer Vines, Multnomah County Health Officer, said in a statement. "I know many county residents were looking out for each other and am deeply saddened by this initial death toll. As our summers continue to get warmer, I suspect we will face this kind of event again.''
Along with the deaths, Multnomah County noted that they recorded the highest-ever number of 911 calls for medical emergencies with 491 calls, a 63 percent increase over normal.
There were also 131 emergency department and urgent care clinic visits for heat illness in the county between June 25, when the National Weather Service excessive heat warning went into effect, and June 28. To emphasize the data, officials said "normally we would see one."
The news in Oregon comes just one day after it was announced that nearly a dozen people in Seattle — and hundreds more in nearby British Columbia — died of heat-related illness during the record-breaking heatwave, CNBC reported.
Meanwhile, the British Columbia city of Lytton hit 117.5 degrees, also setting the record for the highest temperature ever recorded in Canada, CNN reported.
In an op-ed for The Seattle Times on Tuesday, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee wrote, "We cannot just turn up the AC. We have to turn up our level of efforts fighting the underlying cause of our changing world — climate change."
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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said that on average extreme heat kills more than 700 people each year in the United States.
Older people — along with young children and infants, pregnant women and people with chronic medical conditions — are more vulnerable to high temperatures because their bodies are unable to regulate temperature in the same way that younger, healthy adult bodies are, according to NPR.
If you see someone suffering heat exhaustion, get them to a cooler, air-conditioned place, have them drink water if they're fully conscious and have them take a cool shower or use a cold compress. Symptoms include feeling faint or dizzy, excessive sweating, cool, pale or clammy skin, nausea or vomiting, a rapid and weak pulse and muscle cramps.
Signs of heat stroke, meanwhile, are similar but slightly different — and require immediate medical attention. Experts advise calling 911 if you or someone you know exhibits symptoms such as a throbbing headache, no sweating, a body temperature of about 103 degrees, red, hot, dry skin, nausea or vomiting, rapid, strong pulse and a possible loss of consciousness.