When triple-digit temperatures hit the Pacific Northwest this summer, the emergency room at Seattle’s Harborview Medical Center was ill prepared. Doctors raced to treat heat-aggravated illness in homeless people, elderly patients with chronic ailments, and overdosing narcotics users.
“The magnitude of the exposure, this was so far off the charts in terms of our historical experience,” said Dr. Jeremy Hess, an emergency medicine physician and professor of environmental and occupational health sciences at the University of Washington.
Doctors, nurses and hospitals increasingly are seeing patients sickened by climate-related problems, from overheating to smoke inhalation from wildfires and even infectious diseases. One recent assessment predicts annual U.S. heat deaths could reach nearly 60,000 by 2050.
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