Army Safety officials are warning that the novel coronavirus could increase the risks of heat exhaustion, heatstroke and other heat-related illnesses.
In their article posted on the Army Safety Center website June 3, Lt. Col. David Degroot and Capt. Ryan Zimmerman with the Martin Army Community Hospital, Fort Benning, Georgia, warned that fever caused by viral illnesses like COVID-19 can increase baseline body temperatures, increasing the risk of heat illnesses during exercise, training or other intense physical activity conducted in hot and humid conditions.
“Viral illness augments the body’s normal heat response due to exertion, increasing heat strain due to the combined effects of fever and exercise,” they wrote, adding, “Upper respiratory infections (specifically those that are viral in nature) in particular have been implicated in a large number of (exertional heat illness) and (exertional heatstroke) cases.”
On Fort Leonard Wood, heat-related illnesses usually include sunburn, lightheadedness and dehydration, according to 1st Lt. Dong Zhang, an environmental science officer at General Leonard Wood Army Community Hospital. Zhang said new protective measures put in place since the COVID-19 pandemic began are designed to keep Soldiers in training safe.
“Modifications to training, safety measures that have been put in place and the early recognition of signs and symptoms reduce the number of serious heat-related injuries on (post),” Zhang said.
He said everyone spending time outdoors in the summer months here should keep humidity levels in mind, in addition to air temperature.
“Be aware that when the environmental temperature rises above 95 degrees Fahrenheit, cooling of the body relies largely on evaporation (jump in state from liquid to gas),” he said. “However, when the humidity is above 75 percent, evaporation markedly decreases. Hence, even if a trainee is visibly sweating, it does not guarantee that heat is being dissipated from the core. Therefore, please monitor the environment throughout the training events and provide trainees opportunities to offload the heat. Missions can still be achieved with modifications to uniforms and schedule.”
Experts say that even physically fit individuals who are acclimated to summer temperatures can be put at increased risk by the virus “if they have a recent or current infection.”
The latest Heat Illness Report released in April from the Army Public Health Center showed 1,572 heat-illness cases, including 1,282 cases of heat exhaustion and 290 cases of heatstroke among Army personnel since July 2019, resulting in a total of 45 hospitalizations.
APHC officials noted that heat illnesses can occur year-round in training environments when conditions include high temperatures, high humidity, winds, high solar load or repeated hot-and-humid days, especially combined with missions that require high levels of exertion or physical intensity, heavy loads of gear or repeated days of strenuous activity.
(Editor’s note: The complete article can be found online at https://bit.ly/37mCXrE or at https://www.army.mil/article/236199/exertional_heat_illness_and_coronavirus_whats_the_connection.)