Parked cars pose dehydration danger for living creatures, including kids

"Don't leave a child alone – at all, even if you expect it to be a minute. That one minute can grow into 15 minutes if you get delayed dropping off a video or running into the grocery store," said the Vancouver Island Health Authority's Dr. Murray Fyfe. "It's the same thing for pets. They shouldn't be left unattended in a vehicle."

Simply put, nothing that breathes should be left in your car on a hot day. That’s the emphatic advice from a medical health officer after a three-year-old girl was left in a vehicle on a sunny afternoon last week.

“Don’t leave a child alone – at all, even if you expect it to be a minute. That one minute can grow into 15 minutes if you get delayed dropping off a video or running into the grocery store,” said the Vancouver Island Health Authority’s Dr. Murray Fyfe. “It’s the same thing for pets. They shouldn’t be left unattended in a vehicle.”

Last Wednesday, a girl was left in a locked SUV by her mother for nearly half-an-hour until police arrived and were able to unlock the door to remove her. She was checked out and deemed OK, but Fyfe says even 10 minutes in a hot car can lead to serious health risks.

“When the temperature’s in the low 20s outdoors, it may get up to 50 or hotter in a car within a matter of an hour,” he said. “Children aren’t going to recognize the symptoms of heat-related illness. And they’re typically not capable of removing themselves from a very hot environment.”

The symptoms of heat exhaustion are fatigue, nausea or cramps. It stems from the body temperature climbing to a point where it cannot accommodate the perspiration required to cool it down. “That usually means they’re becoming dehydrated … they’re losing minerals and fluids.”

Heat exhaustion can occur quicker – a matter of minutes – if there have been successive warm days, Fyfe said.

In the last decade the Vancouver Island Health Authority has had zero cases of children brought to the emergency room suffering from heat exhaustion from these type of situations.

Once temperatures reach more than 40 C in a stuffy car, heat stroke can set in. “They may become confused, lose consciousness, develop seizures. If it’s not dealt with quite quickly, it can be fatal.”

According to data from the B.C. Coroner’s Service, there have been no child deaths in the province in the last decade as a result of being left in a vehicle. However, according to KidsandCars.org, an American-based safety advocacy group, an average 37 children die every year in the U.S. from heat stroke induced by being in a hot car.

Saanich police Sgt. Dean Jantzen says leaving a child in a car can result in charges of negligence. As well, the Ministry of Children and Families can intervene, as happened following last Wednesday’s incident, when the child was removed from the custody of her mother.

“If you happen to see a child alone in a car, and you feel that it’s medically necessary – or for reasons of safety –feel it’s necessary to break in, I’m sure everybody can use their own good judgment,” he said, recommending that police be called. “We can have an officer there in a moment because obviously that would be a priority. That’s a better way to go about it.”

The same goes for pets, he said.

Leaving an animal – be it a dog, cat or ferret – in a car on a hot day can bring about health concerns even quicker, because animals don’t perspire as well as humans.

“It’s inappropriate to leave anything that’s living or breathing in your vehicle,” Jantzen said. “The response to any of these types of calls would be very swift.”

The Victoria SPCA gets between 10 and 25 calls on a sunny day from people concerned about an animal left in a vehicle. Branch manager Penny Stone says it’s best to just leave your dog at home where they have plenty of shade and cool water.

“It’s all preventable,” she said. “These are animals that we are having to tend to that people are supposedly caring for.”

Fyfe says taking a proactive approach to your child’s health during the summer months is a good idea. Ensuring they drink a sufficient amount of fluids, not just when they’re thirsty or active, will help keep them constantly hydrated.

For more sun safety information, visit www.viha.ca.

kslavin@saanichnews.com

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