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Homeless Individuals Particularly Vulnerable to Heat Waves

Increased odds of emergency department visits seen among homeless during heat waves

TUESDAY, Dec. 28, 2021 (HealthDay News) — Odds of emergency department visits are higher among individuals experiencing homelessness during heat waves, according to a study published online Dec. 22 in the American Journal of Public Health.

Lara Schwarz, M.P.H., from the Herbert Wertheim School of Public Health and Longevity Science at the University of California San Diego, and colleagues assessed the effect of heat waves on emergency department visits for 24,688 individuals experiencing homelessness in San Diego between 2012 and 2019.

The researchers observed a positive association between heat waves and emergency department visits, with the strongest risk for emergency visits during daytime heat waves (e.g., 99th percentile, two days; odds ratio, 1.29). Particular vulnerability to heat waves was seen among patients experiencing homelessness who were younger or elderly and who required a psychiatric consultation. Increased odds for an emergency department visit persisted for individuals experiencing homelessness in an analysis matching them to nonhomeless individuals based on age, gender, and race/ethnicity.

“The same weather that makes living unsheltered possible in California also exposes people experiencing homelessness to a higher risk of a wide range of heat-induced health conditions that can result in end-organ damage and even death,” a coauthor said in a statement. “People that experience homelessness are considered to be among the most vulnerable to extreme weather impacts, due to their exposure to the elements and high rates of preexisting health conditions such as mental illness, as well as higher rates of smoking, drug, and alcohol use.”

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