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High School Athletes, Males Most Likely Heat Illness Victims Says CDC

High school athletes, especially males, are at the highest risk of suffering exertional heat illness requiring treatment in U.S. hospital emergency rooms, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The CDC report1 highlights the need for effective heat illness prevention education targeted towards high school athletes, their coaches and parents:

  • Approximately 6,000 people per year are treated in U.S. emergency departments (EDs) for exertional heat illness (2 visits per 100,000 population);
  • Three quarters (72.5%) treated for exertional heat illness were male;
  • Slightly more than a third (35.6%) were aged 15 to 19;
  • The next most likely group to suffer sports-related heat illness were age 10 to 14 years;
  • 7.1% of patients were hospitalized;
  • Two thirds (66.4%) of the ED visits occurred, not surprisingly, in the summer months of July through September, with the month of August - when pre-season high school football begins - accounting for fully one third of the total (33.2%).
  • Football - again, not surprisingly - was the most common activity leading to ED visits (24.7%).
  • Other common activities leading to ED visits among males were baseball/softball for those aged ≤14. 
  • For females, baseball/softball was the most common activity leading to ED visits for those aged ≤14, and track and field for those 15-19 years.
Because only nonfatal heat illnesses treated in EDs were included, the report is an underestimate of all heat illnesses.  It also provides only national estimates, not state or local estimates (which are likely to be higher in the South and Southwest).

All heat illness preventable

"All heat illnesses are preventable," says the CDC. "Everyone engaging in sports or recreational activities is at risk for heat illness and thus can benefit from following established recommendations, the most important of which is primary prevention," including:

  • scheduling frequent rest breaks;
  • encouraging fluid consumption;
  • gradually increasing the frequency, duration, and intensity of team practices in the summer months to allow athletes to acclimatize to the heat; and
  • learning to recognize the symptoms of heat illness, which include dehydration, nausea, vomiting, headache, dizziness, or change in mental status.

1. Gilchrist J, Haileyesus T, Murphy M, Yard E. Nonfatal Sports and Recreation Heat Illness Treated in Hospital Emergency Departments - United States, 2001-2009.  MMWR; July 29, 2011; 60(29): 977-980.

Posted August 8, 2011