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Kids in hot cars a lethal summer trend
Coordinator of Safe Kids: A child's body can overheat quicker than an adult
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Hot weather health tips

For you

• Drink more fluids (nonalcoholic), regardless of your activity level. Don't wait until you're thirsty to drink.

• Don't drink liquids that contain alcohol or large amounts of sugar, which cause you to lose more body fluid. Also, avoid very cold drinks, which can cause stomach cramps.

• If your home does not have air conditioning, go to the shopping mall or public library; even a few hours spent in air conditioning can help your body stay cooler.

• Electric fans may provide comfort, but when the temperature is in the high 90s, fans will not prevent heat-related illness. Taking a cool shower or bath, or moving to an air-conditioned place is a better way to cool off.

• Wear lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing.

• Never leave anyone in a closed, parked vehicle.

•  Although any one at any time can suffer from heat-related illness, some people are at greater risk than others.

• Check regularly on infants and young children; people aged 65 or older; people who have a mental illness; and those who are physically ill, especially with heart disease or high blood pressure. Visit adults at risk at least twice a day and closely watch them for signs of heat exhaustion or heat stroke.

• Limit your outdoor activity to morning and evening hours. If you must exercise outdoors, drink two to four glasses of cool, nonalcoholic fluids each hour.

• Protect yourself from the sun by wearing a wide-brimmed hat (also keeps you cooler) and sunglasses and by putting on sunscreen of SPF 15 or higher.

For your pet

• Pets can get dehydrated quickly, so give them plenty of fresh, clean water when it's hot outdoors.

• Make sure your pets have a shady place to get out of the sun, be careful to not over-exercise them, and keep them indoors when it's extremely hot.

• According to Dr. Lila Miller, ASPCA Vice President of Veterinary Outreach, "symptoms of overheating in pets include excessive panting or difficulty breathing, increased heart and respiratory rate, drooling, mild weakness, stupor or even collapse. They can also include seizures, bloody diarrhea and vomit along with an elevated body temperature of over 104 degrees."

• Animals with flat faces, like Pugs and Persian cats, are more susceptible to heat stroke since they cannot pant as effectively. These pets, along with the elderly, the overweight, and those with heart or lung diseases, should be kept cool in air-conditioned rooms as much as possible.

• Never leave your animals alone in a parked vehicle.

• Giving your dog a lightweight summer haircut helps prevent overheating. Shave down to a one-inch length, never to the skin, so your dog still has some protection from the sun. Brushing cats more often than usual can prevent problems caused by excessive heat.

• Don't let your dog linger on hot asphalt; sensitive paw pads can burn. Keep walks during these times to a minimum.

Sources: Center for Disease Control and Prevention, SPCA

As temperatures continue to rise, and spring gives way to summer, local safety officials are wary of a tragic epidemic - children left in hot cars.

"As a mother, I can't understand how a person could leave a child in a vehicle like that," said Kim Martin, coordinator of Safe Kids Gainesville-Hall County. "Sadly, it happens a lot."

In February, a Hall County mother was charged with reckless conduct for leaving her 13-month-old strapped in a car seat while she shopped in Flowery Branch.

Last month, a mother and grandmother in Cornelia were booked into the Habersham County Detention Center for leaving a 6-month-old unattended in a vehicle in a Kmart parking lot.

Both of those children survived, but that isn't always the case.

On May 25, a 21-year-old Kennesaw woman left her 5-month-old cousin in a parked car for five hours while she went to work. First responders found the baby unconscious upon arrival. She was pronounced dead shortly after that.

"Oftentimes in situations like these, the person who leaves the child alone in the vehicle typically isn't the one who normally drops the child off," Martin said.

"It's not their routine. Sometimes it's the case of a new baby and sleep-deprived parents."

According to Martin, vehicular heat stroke claimed its sixth nationwide for the year this week.

Unfortunately, it's a refrain that will be repeated throughout the summer. According to Consumer Reports, between 1998 and May 2011, 500 children have died from being left in a hot vehicle. Forty-nine of those cases happened last year.

To help combat this issue, Safe Kids USA has launched a "Never Leave Your Child Alone in a Car" campaign. The goal is to get parents in the habit of always taking their child out of the car, no matter how quick an anticipated errand may be.

A recommendation that the American Academy of Pediatrics issued in March might keep kids safer in crashes but make it more likely that they'll be forgotten in a car. The academy now wants parents to put children in rear-facing car seats in the backseat until they're 2 years old or 30 pounds, an increase of one year or 10 pounds.

The last time experts pushed a new campaign to put more children in rear-facing seats— in the 1990s, to cut the chances of being killed by air bags — the number of children who died in hot cars spiked.

In fact, more kids died from being left in hot cars than had died from air bags, reports Kids and Cars, a Kansas-based nonprofit focused on child car safety.

David Diamond, a psychology professor at the University of South Florida, shares the worry that extending the time children sit in rear-facing seats will mean that more of them will die of heatstroke when their parents forget they are there.

Almost 90 percent of children who died of heatstroke in cars from 1998 through 2009 were 3 years old or younger, Kids and Cars reports, and about three-quarters were 2 and younger.

In a multitasking world, Diamond said, their enemy can be the human brain's tendency to focus on what it is doing at the moment.

He likens it to putting a cup of coffee on your car roof while you pull out the keys and get in. It is easy to forget the coffee until it spills down the windshield when you drive away.

A parent might pay so much attention to the stress or what lies ahead at work that he or she drives right by the day care center almost in autopilot mode, Diamond said.

In an effort to help caregivers be more safe than sorry, the local Safe Kids group is printing up "Look Before You Lock" key rings to pass out in the community.

The group is also planning a hot car demonstration for July to show how much hotter the interior of a vehicle can get in the sun compared to outside temperatures. The demonstration will involve baking a dessert inside a car.

"The temperature can reach more than 100 degrees inside a car," Martin said.

If you happen to notice a child locked inside of a car, even if the windows are cracked, you should call 911 immediately, Martin says.

"A child's small body can overheat a lot quicker than an adult. They're a lot more susceptible to heat-related injuries," Martin said.

"You won't know how long they've been inside the car and minutes can make all of the difference."

McClatchy-Tribune News Service contributed to this story.

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