Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Boiling alive

"The 2003 heatwave killed more than 30,000 people. It was the biggest natural disaster in Europe on record. [...]If it had been a freak occurrence, northern Europeans may have been able to rest easy. But the latest climate models paint a very bleak picture, suggesting that the summer of 2003 will be the norm in Europe by the 2040s."
"The gruesome effects of overheating have been largely forgotten as Europe swelters under record temperatures, from southern England's 36.5C to Bosnia's 41C. When weather forecasters predicted that the heat would get more intense across the continent today, most of us heaved a sigh at the thoughts of stuffy trains, sweaty buses, parched lawns and boiling offices. But perhaps we are being complacent."
"When the human body gets to 42C, it starts to cook. The heat causes the proteins in each cell to irreversibly change, like an egg white as it boils. Even before that, the brain shuts down because of a lack of blood coming from the overworked, overheated heart. Muscles stop working, the stomach cramps and the mind becomes delirious. Death is inevitable."
"Throughout its life, the human body battles to keep its core temperature at a steady 37C, whatever conditions it finds itself in. This is the temperature at which the organs function normally and there is little tolerance to change. To prevent overheating, the body starts pumping blood to the skin's surface when it senses that things are getting warm. This places extra strain on the heart and, as the water from the blood evaporates, it thickens the blood, leading to an increased risk of clotting - which can cause strokes or heart attacks. If the core temperature continues to rise, muscles stop working properly because of the amount of water and salts being lost through sweating. Eventually, when the brain reaches 38.5C, the body suffers a heatstroke. If the temperature is not brought down quickly at this stage, death soon follows."
Another chilling (yet not refreshing) wake up call in today's Guardian.

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