The health authorities are urging people to avoid staying outdoors, opening windows or using ovens in the coming days as Malta sizzles in yet another heatwave.
Public health chief Charmaine Gauci made the stern warning as Wednesday's temperature was forecast to reach as high as 42°C, feeling even hotter at 43°C.
However, by the end of the day, the maximum temperature recorded was 40.1°C, a Meteorological Office spokesperson said.
It had issued a red warning, meaning people should take action to avoid the heat.
It forecasts temperatures will remain above average for the rest of August.
“Keep the windows closed while the room is cooler than outdoors and then take the opportunity to cool the house during the night by opening the windows,” Gauci urged
“It is also recommended that people avoid using the stove and oven as these will raise the temperature of the room.
“Take cool showers and frequently wet your hands, face and back of neck.”
The warnings come as unbearable temperatures hit the southern Mediterranean, sparking major fires in Greece, Turkey and Sicily, among others. A few woodlands in Malta, including some 25,000 sq metres at Wied Qirda, were destroyed in the last few days, with the intense heat being blamed for the blaze.
It is still not known whether people have been admitted to hospital because of the heat stress.
The rise in temperatures coincides with a stark new climate crisis report from the UN on Monday, which warned of a humanity-threatening rise in temperatures following “unequivocal” evidence human activity is warming the planet.
In comments to Times of Malta, Gauci warned that heat-related illnesses can affect anyone but some people are at a greater risk than others.
These include the “extremes of age groups”, namely babies and children up to the age of four and older people, especially those over 65 years of age as well as those with certain illnesses.
“Those who suffer from chronic conditions, like heart and lung conditions, high blood pressure, liver and kidney diseases, those who are overweight or obese and those who suffer from mental health problems are also at greater risk,” Gauci said.
Take the opportunity to cool the house during the night by opening the windows
“Those on certain medication for hypertension, heart failure, anti-depressants and certain antibiotics are also more at risk from the effect of heat as are those who have mobility problems and those confined in bed,” she added.
Gauci warned heat effects are exacerbated in those who drink alcohol regularly or abuse drugs.
Although the heat can make most people feel breathless and weak, heat-related symptoms are in reality more specific, making them easier to pick up on. They include cramps in the arms, legs or stomach, a feeling of weakness, problems sleeping and feelings of mild confusion or light-headedness.
“With these symptoms, it is advised to rest, stay in a cool place and drink water. If these symptoms persist or get worse, one should seek medical advice,” Gauci urged.
Dealing with heat
According to the public health chief, staying hydrated is “essential” and the “best drink” to quench thirst remains water.
However, to avoid dehydration, it is crucial not to wait to drink until one feels thirsty.
“Avoid alcohol, coffee, tea and large amounts of sugar in drinks. It is important to eat well-balanced, light and regular meals. Eat more cold food, like salads and fruit, which also contain water,” Gauci said.
When staying indoors, people should also choose the coolest rooms at home to stay in, “preferably in the lowest floor”, especially if no air-conditioning is available.
And, when outdoors, especially workers, it is important to don appropriate clothing that helps to dissipate heat.
“Choose loose-fitting, light-weight, light-coloured clothes that cover as much skin as possible and when going outdoors wear a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses,” she said.
While physical activity remains key to staying healthy, Gauci insisted strenuous training should be kept for the coolest time of the day, like the early morning.
“It is also important to take care of others, especially vulnerable persons and one should check on family, friends, neighbours and elderly people who usually live alone and who do not have air-conditioning,” she said.
Gauci also warned about overheating in cars.
According to the public health chief, the temperature inside a car can increase by 20°C in just 10 minutes and 40°C in an hour.
“Many believe that leaving the windows open will help dissipate heat. However, this does not prevent the temperature from rising to a dangerous level,” she explained.
“Leaving children in a car is very dangerous and can lead to deaths. A child’s body heats up three to five times faster than an adult’s body.
“Children have a lot of body surface area that absorbs heat and their bodies have not yet developed the ability to cool down well.
“Hence, children are more vulnerable to heat stress effects. Never leave children or pets alone in a parked car,” she warned.