Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

CDC's Heat & Health tracker collects ER data across the country in near real time


It's barely summertime, but nearly every part of the U.S. has already experienced heat that's dangerous to people's health.


Alejandra Borunda with NPR's climate desk tells us about one tool that can help emergency rooms and health professionals prepare.

ALEJANDRA BORUNDA, BYLINE: When temperatures rise, emergency physician Aneesh Narang knows what to expect.

ANEESH NARANG: Every summer now, especially the last three or four years, it's staggering.

BORUNDA: He works at Banner University Medical Center in Phoenix, Ariz. It's one of the hottest cities in the country.

NARANG: The number of severe heat-related illnesses - the heatstrokes - you know, those really stick with you.

BORUNDA: It's not just Phoenix. Heat now stresses ERs nationwide. But usually, it takes months or longer to get the data that shows how stressed they were, and that lag is a real problem. Public health planners and hospitals need that data fast to respond well. Amruta Nori-Sarma is an epidemiologist at Boston University. She says, also...

AMRUTA NORI-SARMA: It's really hard to motivate action when there's such a time lag.

BORUNDA: Memories are short.

NORI-SARMA: If we're six months down the road, we're thinking, oh, it was really hot in Boston that one week in June. It's harder to motivate any response or activity or preparedness.

BORUNDA: Enter the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's Heat & Health Tracker. The agency released it in 2020. It collects and shows emergency department visits for heat across the country in near-real time. Claudia Brown is a health scientist at the CDC. Last year, she says the tracker showed huge heat impacts.

CLAUDIA BROWN: Several days exceeded the highest recorded rates that those regions had ever seen.

BORUNDA: And that wasn't a one-off.

BROWN: We're seeing these trends occurring again this summer with the recent heat wave in the Upper Midwest and the Northeast.

BORUNDA: She says the tracker shows that heat-related illness has increased over the past few years. It now also includes something the CDC hopes will keep people out of the ER. It's a new daily HeatRisk forecast from the National Weather Service. It factors in how long it has been hot and where someone lives, since a 90-degree day hits differently in Wisconsin than in Arizona.

Dr. Narang has worked in the emergency department in Phoenix for 11 years. He says the tracker data reflects his own experience.

NARANG: I mean, there's no question the amount of heat-related illness and complaints are exponentially higher than when I first started here.

BORUNDA: That's because climate change is making heat waves longer and more intense.

Alejandra Borunda, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Alejandra Borunda
[Copyright 2024 NPR]
Become a sustaining member for as low as $5/month
Make an annual or one-time donation to support MTPR
Pay an existing pledge or update your payment information