Acute heat stroke exposes lack of coordination between weather and health authorities

A condition called “thermoplegia” (热射病) has occupied headlines this week, as multiple health workers fell unconscious in their Covid-testing PPE suits under scorching outdoor temperatures across China.

There have been more than 100 cases reported this summer, according to one calculation. The safety of Covid-fighting personnel during extreme weather has become a heated topic

“Thermoplegia” is synonymous with “heat stroke” in English. But an official definition published by China’s National Health Commission on 15 July defines it as the most acute version of it, which could result in body temperature exceeding 40C and an “extremely high” death rate.

According to the National Climate Centre, as a consequence of climate change and a resulting anomaly of atmospheric circulation, from the beginning of June to 12 July the average number of high temperature days (of 35C and above) experienced in China was higher than in the same period for any year since records began in 1961.

Although the issue has received national attention because of the ubiquity of PCR testing under the zero-Covid policy, health workers are not the only professionals suffering from it. There have also been reports of deaths of construction workers and couriers.

In an in-depth article, media outlet Health Insight argues that there is a much bigger issue being overlooked. Heat in China has long been treated as only a meteorological subject not a public health one. The lack of cooperation between weather-forecasting and public health authorities has resulted in the health implications of heat not being adequately understood and responded to. No authority takes responsibility for the sickness and death resulting from it.

The article calls for the mainstreaming of “health meteorology” which can inform such actions but has so far been confined to papers and labs.