Doctors warn of asphalt burns when the heat wave hits the western United States

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Arizona Burn Center Valleywise Health Director, Dr. Kevin Foster, in a Burn Center Hospital room on Monday, June 14, 2021 in Phoenix. Emergency rooms such as the Arizona Burn Center in Phoenix, where Director Foster said 104 people were admitted in June, July and August 2020 with serious burn injuries due to contact with hot surfaces. Credit: AP Photo / Ross D. Franklin

Doctors working at Arizona and Nevada burn centers warn of injuries from contact with overheated roads and other surfaces, as the first extreme heat wave of the year spreads across the western United States.

A high-pressure system is expected to raise temperatures above 115 degrees Fahrenheit (46 degrees Celsius) this week in Las Vegas and Phoenix. Health officials advised people to consider hot asphalt, sidewalks and even desert sand.

Elsewhere, heat warnings extended from central and inland California valleys as far north as Montana and Wyoming, where projected highs of 109 degrees (43 Celsius) on Tuesday are expected to break records. In Denver, parents, children and pets cooled off in a popular stream Monday, when the temperature reached 96 degrees (36 degrees Celsius) in the mid-afternoon.

These northern states should see relief by the middle of the week, but this respite is not expected for Arizona, Utah, Nevada and parts of California. National Weather Service heat warnings last all weekend for these states. High temperatures will be exacerbated by a lack of weather stops, according to AccuWeather, whose forecasts called it a “rare, dangerous and deadly” event.

This means the centers are likely to be busy.

Doctors warn of asphalt burns when the heat wave hits the western United States

Arizona Burn Center Valleywise Health Director, Dr. Kevin Foster, in a Burn Center Hospital room on Monday, June 14, 2021 in Phoenix. Emergency rooms such as the Arizona Burn Center in Phoenix, where Director Foster said 104 people were admitted in June, July and August 2020 with serious burn injuries due to contact with hot surfaces. Credit: AP Photo / Ross D. Franklin

In the southwest, the problem of hot surface burns grows as temperatures rise due to climate change and growing urbanization.

And it appears in emergencies like the one of Arizona Burn Center in Phoenix, where the director, Dr. Kevin Foster said 104 people were admitted in June, July and August 2020 with severe burn injuries due to contact with scorching surfaces. Seven people died.

Many more received outpatient treatment.

“It doesn’t take long to get full thickness or third-degree burns when exposed to hot pavement,” Foster told a news conference last week. “Because if you look at the hot pavement or the asphalt at two in the afternoon with direct sunlight, the temperature is usually between 170 and 180 degrees Fahrenheit.”

At the Lions Burn Care Center at the University of Las Vegas Medical Center, injuries caused by hot pavement are so common that staff call the summer months “pavement burn season,” the center’s medical director said. In total, 13% of serious burn injuries to the burn care center come from hot pavements.

Doctors warn of asphalt burns when the heat wave hits the western United States

Entry to Arizona Burn Center Valleywise Health is shown on Monday, June 14, 2021 in Phoenix. Emergency rooms such as the Arizona Burn Center in Phoenix, where the director, Dr. Kevin Foster, said 104 people were admitted in June, July and August 2020 with serious burn injuries due to contact with hot surfaces . Credit: AP Photo / Ross D. Franklin

“It’s an important part of our population,” said Dr. Syed Saquib, who has co-authored several medical journal reports on burns in desert climates.

According to an April report from the medical journal co-author of Saquib, floor burns are often severe and require longer hospital stays and a greater need for surgery.

This is because injured people often cannot get up from the overheated pavement because they collapsed due to dehydration, heat stroke or another medical condition or because they are intoxicated.

Cases begin to increase once the times exceed 95 degrees (35 degrees Celsius).

Foster’s facilities, which are part of Valleywise Health’s public hospital system serving Phoenix and Maricopa County, said severe burns from contact with hot surfaces rose 49 percent last year in from 2019, reaching its highest number since the burn center began tracking cases in 2000.

Doctors warn of asphalt burns when the heat wave hits the western United States

People cool off in the water at the confluence of the South Platte River and Cherry Creek in Denver, Colorado, on June 14, 2021. By mid-afternoon, the temperature reached 96 degrees as part of the heat wave. which crossed the western United States. AP Photo / Brittany Peterson

“Virtually all of these patients needed surgery, including burn excision and skin grafting,” he said.

Of those admitted last summer, 30% required ICU care and 20% ended up with fans to help them breathe, Foster said.

The elderly are at higher risk of falls that cause severe burns, as well as people with medical conditions such as neuropathy or loss of sensation in the feet. Falls that cause burns can also be caused by poisoning, and some people get burned after the vehicle crashes when they end up on the pavement. Foster noted that only 16% of patients were homeless and that the average age of those admitted last year was 52 years.

Foster can also occur from burns after touching hot surfaces, such as metal door handles, seat belt buckles, or hot leather car seats. And babies and toddlers are especially susceptible, as their skin is easier to burn and can’t move from a hot surface so quickly. The concrete next to the pool can also cause burns, even coatings called “fresh cover”.

  • Doctors warn of asphalt burns when the heat wave hits the western United States

    Arizona Burn Center Valleywise Health is shown on Monday, June 14, 2021 in Phoenix. Emergency rooms such as the Arizona Burn Center in Phoenix, where the director, Dr. Kevin Foster, said 104 people were admitted in June, July and August 2020 with serious burn injuries due to contact with hot surfaces . Credit: AP Photo / Ross D. Franklin

  • Doctors warn of asphalt burns when the heat wave hits the western United States

    Dogs play in the water at the confluence of the South Platte River and Cherry Creek in Denver on Wednesday, June 14, 2021. By mid-afternoon, the temperature reached 96 degrees as part of the heat wave it was traversing. the western United States. Credit: AP Photo / Brittany Peterson

  • Doctors warn of asphalt burns when the heat wave hits the western United States

    People cool off in the water at the confluence of the South Platte River and Cherry Creek in Denver on Monday, June 14, 2021. By mid-afternoon, the temperature reached 96 degrees as part of the heat wave that it crossed the western United States. AP Photo / Brittany Peterson

  • Doctors warn of asphalt burns when the heat wave hits the western United States

    Children play in the water at the confluence of the South Platte River and Cherry Creek in Denver on Monday, June 14, 2021. By mid-afternoon, the temperature reached 96 degrees Fahrenheit as part of the heat wave that it crossed the western United States. Credit: AP Photo / Brittany Peterson

  • Doctors warn of asphalt burns when the heat wave hits the western United States

    People cool off in the water at the confluence of the South Platte River and Cherry Creek in Denver on Monday, June 14, 2021. By mid-afternoon, the temperature reached 96 degrees as part of the heat wave that it crossed the western United States. AP Photo / Brittany Peterson

Preventing these injuries is often a matter of conscience, Foster said.

For the elderly and those with medical illnesses, it is best to avoid going out during the hottest hours. Not going alone is also key.

For parents, making sure young children wear shoes and doing a “touch test” before allowing them to get on hot play equipment can prevent burns.

At the Lions Burn Care Center, Saquib said staff perform frequent interventions to try to prevent burns, through social media and other platforms.

The burn care center has partnered with community groups to urge people in the pools to wear flip-flops and distribute them to vulnerable populations to try to prevent foot burns.


The blazing summers of the southwest can cause pavement burns in a matter of seconds


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Citation: Doctors warn of asphalt burns when heat wave hits western United States (2021, June 15), recovered on June 15, 2021 at https://medicalxpress.com/news/2021- 06-doctors-asphalt-west.html

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