Already this year we have had 12 children die of heatstroke in the United States after being left in a hot car, and we have yet to see the hottest days of summer. On Saturday, the latest death occurred in Iowa where a 6-month old died after being left in the car by his father while he went to the barbershop. And just a week ago in Louisiana, an 8-month old died after her father forgot to drop her off at daycare. At Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, we are determined to raise awareness about the problem.
In collaboration with the Connecticut Department of Transportation, those of us who work at our Injury Prevention Center created Connecticut’s very own heatstroke awareness campaign called “Where’s Baby? Look Before You Lock.” Working with our partners, including Yale New Haven Children’s Hospital and Safe Kids Connecticut, we are getting the word out through billboards, digital advertising, and Connecticut Parent Magazine about how you can protect your family from experiencing a tragedy. Our campaign is now in its third year.
Each year, on average, about 37 children die from heatstroke after being left in a motor vehicle. In more than half of these deaths a parent simply forgets and unintentionally leaves a child, usually less than 4-years-old, alone in a car. In as little as 10 minutes, the inside temperature of a vehicle can be 20 degrees hotter than it is outside. In 80-degree weather, after 60 minutes, the inside temperature of a car can reach 123 degrees.
Heatstroke occurs when a child’s internal temperature exceeds 104 degrees. It is at this point that children can be dizzy, confused, have seizures, and lose consciousness, among other symptoms. When the internal body temperature reaches 107 degrees, cell damage occurs and internal organs begin to shut down, a situation that can quickly lead to death. Children are not as efficient as adults in regulating their body temperature and their body temperature can increase at a rate three to five times faster than an adult. If you are hot then your children are even hotter.
There are simple steps you can take to avoid a tragedy. Parents should check to make sure children have been dropped off where they need to be. Caregivers who drive children should make it a habit to leave a reminder in the backseat like a shoe or a purse. My personal favorite is to advise parents to place their cellphone in the backseat because you should not be using it when driving your car to begin with.
Many parents and other caregivers do not realize the danger a car sitting in a driveway can pose should a child get inside and become trapped. Over about the past 20 years, 29 percent of child heatstroke deaths have occurred because children got inside a car and could not get out. So, lock your vehicles when they are sitting in the driveway. If a young child goes missing this summer, thoroughly check any vehicles near where they were playing.
For more information, check out our website at www.wheresbaby.org.
Kevin Borrup, JD, MPA, is the associate director of the Connecticut Children’s Injury Prevention Center.
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